As I remarked when discussing the companion
volume of early sonatas, Zeynep
Ucbasaran has already recorded two CDs of Mozart. The first
had the Sonatas K.330 and K.457 plus the C minor and D minor Fantasias
and the Duport Variations (see review).
The second had the Sonatas K.533/494, K.282 and K.284 (see review).
We now have a pair of two-CD packs: the aforesaid “Early Sonatas”
and this one of “Late Sonatas”, meaning slightly haphazard combinations
– if you don’t buy the whole cycle – of the earlier and later
sonatas not recorded previously. Ucbasaran’s cycle comes on six
CDs rather than the more usual five – the brisk and energetic
Lili Kraus manages with only four – and, of the five-CD rivals,
De Larrocha for instance also includes the two Fantasias plus
the two Rondos. You get more repeats from Ucbasaran, though –
but still not all of them if that means a whole lot to you. Without
wasting time on the mathematics, maybe it wouldn’t have fitted
onto 6 CDs anyway. On the strength of the present album, even
more than the “Early Sonatas”, I’d sooner hear Ucbasaran either
much-loved theme of the variations movement that opens K.331
is unfolded warmly and gently. The variations themselves are
beautifully characterized with only minimal shifts of tempo
between each other. The “Adagio” variation is deeply felt at
a still-flowing tempo, but the final “Allegro” is somewhat leisurely,
not quite the explosion of joy it can sometimes be. However,
I’ll return to this in a moment. The “Menuetto” is excellently
poised at a tempo that easily accommodates the Trio. The ubiquitous
“Rondo alla Turca”, though buoyant and well pointed, seems to
insist over-deliberately that the marking is only “Allegretto”.
A tad faster might have made it a bit more fun.
thinking about this performance afterwards, it strikes me that
Ucbasaran has presented the entire Sonata at a practically uniform
pulse. Trying to verify this was a cheerless task, since it
seems unkind to set a metronome ticking to somebody’s real live
playing, and the metronome soon showed that she breathes the
music and is flexible round the corners as an artist should
be. Very broadly, though, the basic pulse of each new tempo
– whether quavers, crotchets or whatever – remains within the
range of 120-138.
composer of classical times – as far as I know – ever theorized
that the movements of a classical sonata or symphony should
be related to a single pulse. However, a good deal of ink went
into this theory in the earlier 20th century, from
Schenker in particular. It was taken seriously by a number of
artists: Leonard Bernstein, for example, spoke of the mathematical
relationships between the tempi ŕ propos his recordings
of Beethoven’s Symphonies and “Fidelio”. One of my own former
teachers, Else Cross, an Austrian who had known Webern, insisted
on an exact relationship between, for example, the two tempi
of the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata op.27/1. In the
UK generally this theory had little impact, principally because
most college students in the mid 20th century had
Tovey’s edition of the Beethoven Sonatas impressed on them as
their Bible, and Tovey vociferously rubbished the theory whenever
I cannot know if Ucbasaran has deliberately applied this theory
to her performances, though her notes show that she reads widely
about the music she plays. It is perfectly possible that she
has arrived at these results through an intuitive sense of continuity.
She shows this, too, in the minimal pauses between movements,
as though, for her, the Sonata is a single movement in several
related sections. I haven’t tested whether she finds a single
underlying pulse in the other Sonatas, but I think this could
account for one or two other slowish finales, K.332 for example.
My own experience of this has been that, looking for an underlying
pulse can help to find the right tempi in classical sonatas
about 66% of the time, but then comes a movement that just
won’t fit. The theory is not merely an empirical one. In the
renaissance period single movements – in a Mass, for example,
or a multi-section instrumental toccata – were certainly related
to a single pulse, the “Tactus”. So the idea is that composers
retained – retain? – a subconscious memory of this.
to get back to the record in hand … A strong performance of
the first movement of K.332, which Ucbasaran rightly
describes in her notes as “orchestral sounding”. The “Adagio”
is beautifully shaped – her slow movements are the heart of
all her performances – followed by a finale which, though strong
and forthright, could have had just that little more “go” to
“easy” C major Sonata K.545 shows Ucbasaran at her best.
By giving all repeats in the first two movements – the finale
has none – and by adopting an unhurried approach, she gives
the work an increased stature without ever labouring the point.
And if her finale is again on the slow side, it has such a delightful
lilt that I wouldn’t have it otherwise.
of the “Early Sonatas” volume, I concluded that “if you want
to hear Mozart on a modern Steinway in performances that allow
the music to speak without particular interference between you
and the composer, but without being prim or academic, you should
be well pleased with these two CDs”. Thus far I would say the
present volume confirms that judgement. That is, while I personally
find the sort of “insights” with which a Brendel smothers this
music irritating, especially on disc, I realize that some people
expect a bit more titillation from the performer.
get the idea Ucbasaran has a special affection for K.333.
Without being in any way eccentric, she points the music just
that little bit more – leaning on a chord here, turning a phrase
flexibly there. I would say she has found the ideal happy medium
– not too many personal touches to offend those who want their
Mozart straight but enough for those who want an “interpreter”.
This is Mozart playing at the highest level. As further evidence
of her special feeling for this Sonata she gives both repeats
in the “Andante cantabile”, stretching it to 11:37. For me,
at least, it was not too long.
fine is K.570, probably the greatest Sonata of the cycle.
No quarrel, by the way, with the tempi chosen for the finales
of the three Sonatas on CD 2. Some have felt the D major
Sonata K.576, like the “Coronation” Concerto in the same
key, to be more brilliant than profound. Perhaps as a reaction
against this, Ucbasaran is a little deliberate in the first
movement, giving it strength and purpose but maybe diminishing
the brilliance which is surely one of its essential components.
A beautiful slow movement and a finale that combines grace with
power. Notable are the steely left-hand triplets, without recourse
to the brittle staccato applied here by Ingrid Haebler.
extraordinarily high level achieved in K.333 and K.570 leave me
thinking that the package as a whole, excellent as it is, could
have been better still. All the same, Ucbasaran’s progress from
the slightly timid beginnings of her first Liszt album has been
rewarding to follow and I look forward to her next project.