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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonata No. 8 in A Minor K310 (300d) (1778)
Sonata No. 10 in C Major K330 (300h) (1781/3)
Sonata No. 11 in A Major K331 (300i) (1781-3)
Sonata No. 14 in C Minor K457 (1784)
Sonata No. 16 in C Major K545 Sonata facile (1788)
Glenn Gould, piano
Recorded CBS Studios New York 1967-74


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Released as part of the Glenn Gould Anniversary Edition the Mozart sonatas seem so long ago to have entered the continuum of Gould’s eccentricity that it’s a little surprising to realise that the most recent, K457, only dates from 1974. As a reflection of the solecisms – frequently extreme even by Gouldian standards – inflicted on Mozart Michael Stegemann has concocted a very Gouldian and fictive Colloquium Olympium in which the shades of pianist and composer meet to discuss Gould’s playing. Whimsical though this sounds – and occasionally is – it has two merits; one of paying not so oblique homage to Gould’s own literary self-interviewing and secondly to collate material relevant to an analysis of his approach to Mozart. Some of this seems to derive from conversations Gould had with Bruno Monsaingeon and others. Even though such moments as the opening movement of the A Major, K331, have long since entered the annals of perversity it’s by no means an arid occupation to consider why and how Gould subjected Mozart to such a degree of inversion, debunking and finally rejection.

The A Minor, K310, opens exceptionally quickly with a gabbling insistence, a powerful, absurdly proto-Brahmsian declamatory force applied to it. The slow movement is better but still superficial in the extreme and the Presto finale again rather bad temperedly swift. In the first of the two C Majors, K330, his mezzo forte playing, undifferentiated dynamics, and frankly robotic mechanisms – part of an avowedly anti-theatrical ploy when it came to Mozart, whose early works he liked and later works, by and large, he despised. As a result the peaks and troughs of the Andante cantabile are remorselessly elided, Gould passing over and through with seemingly contented indifference. As for K331, a locus classicus of Gouldian perversity, he apparently believed, or brought himself to believe, that each variation in the opening movement should be faster than the preceding one, culminating in Variation Five, marked Adagio and played by Gould as an Allegro. To be fair he admitted his idiosyncrasies and averred that he was subjecting Mozart to Webern like scrutiny – at other times freely admitting to friends that he didn’t much like Mozart and was simply having fun. Everything about this sonata recording is absurd – the minuet and trio is interminable and the finale is taken at a ridiculously slow tempo with a lack of synchronicity between the hands and a feeling of cynical indifference.

K457 had a protracted recording history; Gould began to record it on 5 November 1973 but returned to the studios twice in June the following year and again in September before it was successfully completed. The opening Allegro goes quite well but the Adagio still features his détaché phrasing, his non-legato, unvaried series of dynamics and anti-melodic determinism and lasting twelve minutes is endless. The concluding finale is an exercise in deconstruction and utterly disjunct. The final of the sonatas here, K545, is slightly better but in the cold light of day still lifeless and depressing, despite all Gould’s digital flexibility. One for Completists or anti-Mozartians.

Jonathan Woolf

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