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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Early Sonatas
CD 1
Piano Sonatas in C, K.279 [14:45], F, K.280 [13:54], B flat, K.281 [17:52], G, K.283 [14:56]
CD 2
Piano Sonatas in C, K.309 [19:07], A minor, K.310 [20:38], D, K.311 [16:34]
Zeynep Ucbasaran (piano)
rec. February 2008, Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall, Santa Barbara, California
EROICA JDT3403 [61:27 + 56:19]


Experience Classicsonline

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 Kk.533/494, 282 and 284 (see review). I imagine that the idea of recording all the Sonatas only matured in the wake of these, with the result that we now have a pair of two-CD packs to finish the job: the present “Early Sonatas” and one of “Late Sonatas” to be reviewed shortly. Meaning, of course, “early” and “late” sonatas omitting those issued previously, which makes the compilations a little haphazard if you buy just one of them. Another upshot is that 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.

Even so, on the strength of the present album I’d sooner hear Ucbasaran. In the opening movement of K.279 she strikes a measured tempo, but one that allows Mozart’s quite detailed staccatos and short phrases to register. Nothing is hurried and nothing drags. It’s all very fluid and natural. She plays the “Andante” with sufficient freedom to bring it to life, but without turning it into Chopin. The finale is again unhurried yet it bubbles with life.

At the risk of seeming perfunctory, I’d be inclined to leave it at that. As each movement starts, even if one expects a slightly brisker tempo, Ucbasaran has a way of making it sound right. The playing is throughout natural and unforced, with slow movements particular highlights. I don’t always welcome second-half repeats but when Ucbasaran embarked on those of K.281 and K.283 – only those two, and only in slow movements – I was actually pleased to hear the music again. In short, 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.

I would add the proviso that in the A minor, Ucbasaran emphasizes pathos rather than drama. So if you want a proto-Beethovenian approach – as, in some moods, I do myself – you won’t find it here. Given the point of view, Ucbasaran’s performance is excellent. In K.311 I did feel that the outer movements might have had a little more brio. Again though, according to its own lights the performance is carried off well.

One small point. Ucbasaran’s insistence that trills shall not end with a turn where one is not written is no doubt “right”. To my – doubtless old-fashioned – ears it results in slightly inconclusive endings to some of them. In truth, I see that quite a few of these final turns, added editorially in my Peters edition, have been crossed out in pencil by one of my former teachers, but I’m afraid I’ve gone on playing them where the music seems to me more beautiful that way. Evidently it doesn’t seem more beautiful that way to Ucbasaran, and many will doubtless agree with her.

Ucbasaran writes her own liner notes. This is not the first time I find that in her writing, as in her playing, she seems a natural communicator.

The recording venue – but not the team – has changed. I didn’t hear the earlier issues again but the sound is now warmer than I remember it. I suppose this disc hasn’t quite got me onto my feet and raving, but I got real satisfaction from it. Total satisfaction, I’d say, from five sonatas out of seven.

Christopher Howell 



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