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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
The Complete Works for Piano Vol. 4

Sonatas: D major K.311, B flat major K.333, C minor K.457 (preceded by the Fantasy in C minor K.475)
Joyce Hatto (piano)
Recorded April 17th 1995, Concert Artist Studios, Cambridge
CONCERT ARTIST/FIDELIO RECORDINGS CACD 9054-2 [69:34]


Volume 4 of Joyce Hatto’s cycle of Mozart sonatas continues to offer rich rewards. For some reason K.311 is offered out of sequence – the cycle has otherwise proceeded in strictly numerical order, unlike Alicia de Larrocha’s RCA set. No matter, the opening "Allegro con spirito" has all the spirit Mozart asks for and the "Andante con espressione" is properly songful, not least in the inspired coda. I suppose that for some the final "Rondeau" may be among those finales which Hatto takes a notch too slowly but for myself this was not so. I think she must have looked for a tempo at which the rather complicated passage from b.127 (with the theme in the left hand and a shower of semi-quavers in the right) will sound clear and natural. In this movement de Larrocha is actually not all that much swifter and the two artists’ conceptions of the work are not greatly different – de Larrocha a touch more impetuous, Hatto a little more poised and gracious.

So it is with K.333, which Hatto allows to speak with an unforced sublimity. What I think is so remarkable about Hatto’s achievement is that so often she seems to have allowed the tempo and the character of each movement to flow out of the music rather than out of herself. This could, in some hands, be a recipe for bland literalness but not when the artist is so clearly alive to the meaning of the music. Just one minor query; why are the last three quavers of bar one played staccato? In my Peters edition they are clearly marked legato, and so they are played by de Larrocha and Alfred Brendel.

The Fantasy in C minor, which is traditionally placed before the sonata in the same key, is often treated as an exercise in rubato or rather – since true rubato does not lose sight of shape and pulse – an exercise in distortion. Hatto shows that true expressive freedom is not incompatible with a respect for the note-values.

With the first movement of the sonata itself, however, I have to register a slight disappointment. I have much admired Hatto’s way of letting the music find its natural tempo, neither pushing it forward nor holding it back. But here, with Mozart at his most proto-Beethovenian, I feel the music can take something bigger, more urgently fiery. There is something too small-scale about Hatto’s conception, and it does not help that her crotchets in bars 3-4 (where nothing is marked) are as staccato as those in bars 1-2 (where staccato is marked). Surely Mozart wished the answering phrase to have a contrasting character? In this case de Larrocha is swifter without actually saying much more and I turned to Alfred Brendel, a more interventionist artist, certainly, but here in imaginative sympathy with the music, which bursts into life in his hands.

No complaints, however, about the gravely sung "Adagio" or the finale which veers between gentle pathos and vital strength.

Do not let my reservations about just one movement in one sonata put you off buying this latest instalment of Hatto’s cycle; overall it is proving to be a major achievement.

Christopher Howell

Volume 1  Volume 2 Volume 3 Volume 4 Volume 5

Complete listing of Concert Artist recordings

 

 



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