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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonata in C K.330 [18:41], Variations on a Minuet by Duport K.573 [13:57], Fantasia in D minor K.397 [05:58], Fantasia in C minor K.475 [13:27], Sonata in C minor K.457 [18:45]
ZEYNEP Ucbasaran (piano)
Recorded 1st-3rd February 2005 at the Abravanel Hall, Music Academy of the West, Santa Barbara, California, USA
EROICA JDT 3222 [70:48]

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Zeynep’s steadily growing discography, which began with large-scale works by Liszt (2 CDs, including the Sonata) and Schubert (including the Wanderer Fantasy), has this year (2005) come up with a record devoted to miniatures (Scarlatti, Beethoven Bagatelles and three 20th Century composers) and now a disc of Mozart. All the above CDs have been reviewed by me for the site [details below]. As I pointed out with the last disc, I take the capitalization of her first name everywhere on the disc and booklet to mean that she wants to be referred to by this name.

Zeynep has increasingly impressed me with her very musical approach to whatever she does, her refusal to personalize the music at the expense of the score. All this would seem to provide the premises for some excellent Mozart and in the main it does so. Her textures are clear and clean, with the pedal so sparingly used that it almost seems not to be there at all (perhaps it is not, but I think there are occasional touches here and there). Though happily using a modern piano her approach to phrasing suggests a certain awareness of what is today called "period practice", with an avoidance of gratuitous legato lines where none are written. In the first movement of K.309 you might find Alicia de Larrocha, with a not dissimilar approach, more warmly inflected at times, while Joyce Hatto, at a slightly slower tempo, finds more of a smile, and of a dialogue between the different themes. But Zeynep’s plain-speaking has its own truth too.

In the "Andante, un poco adagio" of this Sonata both de Larrocha and Hatto emphasise the "andante" part of Mozart’s indication, letting us hear that there are three beats in the bar not six. De Larrocha is warmly mobile while Hatto maintains a delicate poise. On the other hand, Zeynep’s greater breadth perhaps suggests a greater depth of feeling.

In the finale Zeynep, while not contradicting the "Allegretto grazioso" marking, retains a certain rhythmic vigour. Hatto is slower, gentler, and reminds me that I found some of her finales on the slow side. It is not so much a question of tempo as of the fact that it is so calm that it doesn’t seem a finale at all. De Larrocha is similar in tempo to Zeynep, but more inflected while Zeynep maintains a more straightforward drive which I prefer.

In the C minor Sonata Zeynep’s "period practice" leads her to separate the first note from those following, something which is not actually written and which an older generation would have held wrong. It helps her to maintain a brusquer profile and her slightly faster tempo drives purposefully through the movement. De Larrocha allows the music’s more lyrical side to prevail; her bold opening phrase is answered warmly, with a slight relaxation of tempo. Major key sections are again allowed to flower and flow easily whereas Zeynep keeps them in line with the rest. Hatto is here too a little slower and seems to view the music from a certain distance. The drama is there but set in a strictly classical framework.

In the "Adagio" Zeynep is again expansive without any suggestion of romanticism, and this movement may be seen as a touchstone of her musicality, her ability to go straight to the point without frills. De Larrocha is slightly faster, offering a warmer, more romantic sound while Hatto provides another miracle of poise – without any sense of haste she plays the movement in 07:40, as compared with de Larrocha’s 08:11 and Zeynep’s 08:21. Certainly, she removes any feeling of heaviness from it and I must say I am happy to have all three available.

In the finale Zeynep again finds impressive drive whereas de Larrocha seeks out the more consoling aspects. This time Hatto is not slower, but she still maintains her poise.

However, these three pianists might all seem to have relatively similar Mozartian ideals in this Sonata if we let Alfred Brendel into the equation. His outer movements are brisker than Zeynep’s, with moments where he races away impetuously. The sound itself is more sonorous with a lot more pedal, though of course he is too much of a master to allow things to lapse into confusion. His "Adagio" is the most expansive of all, stretching to 09:14. This is the "searching" Brendel, delving into nooks and crannies of the inner parts in a way the other three do not attempt, and which they would maybe reject us too much of the 19th Century. I am tempted to say that this is a great Beethovenian playing Mozart, but he is as ever compelling and his frequent insights are not to be ignored. I for one am very happy to have all these in my collection.

In the two Fantasies Zeynep’s way with the numerous tempo changes reminds me how in the best of her Liszt she is able to clear up problems by apparently being unaware that they are problems, simply by trusting the score. At the beginning of the D minor, Alicia de Larrocha’s voicing of the notes within the arpeggios has all the romantic glow of great Schumann playing, yet is Zeynep’s simplicity not more to the point? In the less "profound" music of the variations she provides a splendid display while never losing her essential seriousness.

Is this latter a good thing or not? At times I meditated during this disc on the thin borderline between a profound respect for the composer and the sort of correct playing that gets good marks in exams. There are times when I wished Zeynep might unbend just a little more. Maybe this will come with the years; certainly, her discs so far have been an upward curve, and this one maintains the tradition. As always, it comes with her own booklet notes, very much to the point, and a splendid recording.

Christopher Howell

Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Les cloches de Genève (from Années de Pelèrinage, Première année), Funérailles (from Harmonies poétiques et réligieuses), Eroica (Transcendental Study no. 7), Nuages gris, Fantasie und Fuge über das Thema B-A-C-H, Schubert Song-transcriptions: Erstarrung (from Die Winterreise), Aufenthalt (from Schwanengesang), Ave Maria, Rapsodie espagnole Zeynep Ucbasaran (pianoforte) Recorded 7th, 14th, 17th November, 8th, 15th December 2001 at Abravanel Hall, Academy of the West, Santa Barbara, California EROICA JDT 3092 [72’ 39"] [CH]

A gifted young artist, at her best in the BACH Fantasy and Fugue and the Spanish Rhapsody. …

Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Aprés une Lecture de Dante (from "Années de Pèlerinage" II: Italie), Vallée d’Obermann (from "Années de Pèlerinage" I: Suisse), Sonata in B minor Zeynep Ucbasaran (piano) Recorded May 27-28 2003, Abravanel Hall, Music Academy of the West, Santa Barbara, California EROICA JDT3135 [65:29] [CH]

Summary: Anyone who picks up this disc will be left in no doubt that Liszt was a composer of lofty aims and noble inspiration, a fact which some still question

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Sonata in A, D.959 (1828), Wander-Fantasy, D.760 (1822) Zeynep Ucbasaran (piano) Location: Abravanel Hall, Music Academy of the West, Santa Barbara, California Dates: September 18th-22nd, 2002 EROICA JDT 3108 [61’ 37"] [CH]

Finely conceived and very musical performances from an artist who puts herself at the service of the composer.

Zeynep Ucbasaran (piano) Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757) Sonatas: K1 in D minor [02:07], K9 in D minor [03:49], K11 in C minor [02:59], K146 in G [02:40] Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827) 7 Bagatelles op.33 (1802) [20:19] Ahmet Adnan SAYGUN (1907-1991) Inci’s Book op.10 (1934) [08:48], 12 Preludes on Aksak Rhythms op.45 (1967): nos. 1 [01:56], 4 [02:20], 7 [02:38], 10 [02:21], 11 [00:55] Leonard BERNSTEIN (1918-1990) Touches (Chorale, 8 Variations, Coda) (1980) [08:45] Robert MUCZYNSKI (b.1929) 6 Preludes op.6 (1953-4) [06:59] Zeynep Ucbasaran (piano) Recorded January 24th-26th 2005 at the Abravanel Hall, Music Academy of the West, Santa Barbara, California EROICA JDT3223 [66:47] [CH]

A very fine performance of the Beethoven Bagatelles and some interesting excursions into contemporary byways


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