Mozart: Piano Sonatas K279, 280, 281

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Piano Sonatas K279, 280, 281
PERFORMER: Robert Levin (fortepiano)
CATALOGUE NO: 82876 842372
Mozart’s earliest keyboard sonatas,


composed around the time of his 19th

birthday, are characterised by the

brilliance of their outer movements

and the romantic ardour of their slow

movements. The middle movement

of K281 is actually headed Andante

amoroso, and its main theme evokes

a pair of clarinets descending in a

warm chain of parallel thirds. When

the theme returns later, its elaborate

decoration gives us some idea of how

Mozart might have ornamented his

music when performing it himself.

Robert Levin has made something

of a speciality out of spontaneous

embellishments, and he substitutes

his own version of this moment. In

the final rondo he replaces Mozart’s

lead-in to the reprise with his own

improvised cadenza, and he goes to

town elsewhere in these sonatas, too

– imaginatively and convincingly.

Levin uses a copy of a piano

by Johann Andreas Stein, whose

instruments Mozart praised for the

effectiveness of their sustaining pedal.

Levin is actually quite sparing in his

use of pedal, and his slow movements

are a little unyielding, too. Mozart

himself maintained a strict pulse in

the bass-line (‘my left hand knows

nothing of rubato’, he once said), but

he must have allowed himself greater

freedom in unfolding the melody.

Maria João Pires is sometimes too

lingering in the Andantes, but she

imparts a glow of warmth that’s not

always apparent in Levin’s otherwise

stimulating performances of these


works. Misha Donat