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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Sonatas, Fantasias and Rondos

CD 1 [73:09]
Sonatas in G, K.283, A, K.331, F, K.332, B flat, K.333
Rec. 9-11 December 1989
CD 2 [65:00]
Sonatas in B flat, K.281, E flat, K.282, C, K.545, D, K.284
Rec. 26-29 June 1990
CD 3 [70:39]
Sonatas in C, K.309, A minor, K.310, D, K.311, C, K.330
Rec. 27 August 1990 (K.309), 7-9 September 1989 (K.310, K.311), 5 August 1991 (K.330)
CD 4 [73:38]
Sonata in C, K.279, Fantasia in D minor, K.397, Sonata in F, K.280, Rondo in D, K.485, Fantasia in C minor, K.475, Sonata in C minor, K.457
Rec. 21-24 and 27 August 1990
CD 5 [67:29]
Sonatas in F, K.533, B flat, K.570, D, K.576, Rondo in A minor, K.511
Rec. 8-9 November 1990 (K. 533, K.570), 6-7 March 1991 (K. 576, K.511)
Alicia de Larrocha (piano)
Recorded at the American Academy Institute of Arts and Letters, New York City (K.330), University Music School Concert Hall, Cambridge, England (K. 310, K.311), all others in BMG Studio A, New York City, dates as above
BMG CLASSICS RCA RED SEAL 82876-55705-2 [5 CDs]


These discs are gathered together as originally coupled; the opportunity might have been taken to regroup the sonatas chronologically. Maybe only a critic is going to listen to so much music in a few days, but I suggest that the small effort required to listen to the whole series in chronological order is worth making, both for Mozart himself and for Alicia de Larrocha.

She sets her credentials in the earliest sonata, K.279; unforced tempi in the outer movements countered by fingerwork that bubbles with vivacity, an absolute minimum use of pedal, crisp, often detached articulation, though each single note has a warm, rounded tone, and middle movements kept well on the move. I wondered if her manner was not closer to Scarlatti than to Mozart at times, or at any rate very conscious of the music’s fortepiano origins. Might a spot more latent romanticism be drawn from the Andante of K.283 without losing sight of the style? Might the Andante cantabile con espressione of the A minor Sonata (of which the outer movements are superb) expand just a shade more?

I am very glad that I listened to the whole cycle chronologically before giving more definite voice to these criticisms, for I now see that de Larrocha has deliberately interpreted the early group of Sonatas (Kk.279-284) in a more fortepiano manner, evidently believing that the true Mozartian voice is still emerging and that we should remember their roots in earlier composers. The Adagio of K.332 has all the gravity one could wish for, and from this point on the middle movements are all beautifully and spaciously expressed, while the outer movements acquire longer and more singing lines. What is remarkable about these performances is how they succeed in expressing everything that is in the music while remaining wholly without idiosyncrasies. K.570 is, quite simply, a wonderful performance of a wonderful sonata (it is probably the finest of them all), while aspiring young pianists could not find a better model for K.545. There is a tendency to regard these sonatas as student fare, not quite on the level of the concertos for piano and orchestra. Time and again, as I listened to these records, I was left feeling that I had underestimated the music in the past.

I feel a little guilty about writing so little after some six hours’ listening, but in view of such all round excellence there seems little point in singling out further details. I dipped into a few recent Brendel performances for comparison and found a slightly more nervous Mozart in his hands, the pianist ever willing to zoom into tiny details. Since his points are always most perceptive, and he does not allow them to hold up the longer line, this is also Mozart playing that demands to be heard. However, the Brendel recordings do not amount to a complete cycle as yet.

Altogether, then, Alicia de Larrocha’s Mozart cycle, well recorded with plenty of bloom on the sound, seems an ideal buy. The booklet notes are quite extensive. Though presented as a single essay, from the way they dart back and forth I think they must actually be taken from the notes to the original separate CDs, printed consecutively, to occasionally bewildering effect. Once you have got used to this they are very good. Completists should note that the composite sonata K.547a, included in some editions, is not given here; nor is the C minor Fantasia, K.396, which was completed by another hand.

Christopher Howell


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