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Symphonies 1, 2, 3

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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Adagio in B minor K.540 [9:17]
Piano Sonata in C major K330 [18:29]
Piano Sonata in A minor K310 [21:02]
Piano Sonata in A major K331 [23:35]
Massimiliano Ferrati (piano)
rec. Villa San Fermo, Lonigo, Italy, May 2010
VELUT LUNA CVLD 232 [72:22]

Here is a very imaginatively constructed program of three contrasting Mozart piano sonatas together with the sublime Adagio in B minor. It is played by a pianist new to me, Massimiliano Ferrati. Born in Adria, Northern Italy in 1970, he studied with the Russian pianist Konstantin Bogino and later with Paul Badura-Skoda. He has performed in recitals and concerts throughout the world, works as a chamber musician and gives master-classes. He has won several piano competitions. A big break came for him in 2001 when he won a bronze medal in the 10th ‘Arthur Rubinstein’ Competition in Tel Aviv, a win that kick-started his international career.
The CD gets off to a good start with a beautiful performance of the Adagio in B minor k540, written in 1788. Ferrati manages to penetrate the depth and spirituality of the work. He subtly controls the dynamics to highlight the moments of drama and tension throughout and shapes the bass to accentuate the harmonic progressions.
The first of the CD’s three sonatas is the C major K330, a light and sunny work, dating from 1783. Ferrati manages successfully to evoke the sunshine and deliver a performance which captures the work’s pervasive simplicity and upbeat nature. Musical phrases are elegantly shaped and bass lines pointed to build up the architecture of the piece. The scale passages in the first movement are pearl-like and glow with a crystalline clarity. Tempi are well judged and dynamics graded in such a way as to add drama to the work. This is especially so in the central section of the eloquent second movement, where he successfully allows the darker and more poignant features to emerge from the light. The allegretto third movement follows in a carefree manner, bringing the sonata to its joyous conclusion.
In total contrast to the C major sonata, we next encounter K310, one of only two piano sonatas Mozart wrote in the minor key. This one is in A minor and was composed in Paris in 1778 when the composer was experiencing a low point in his fortunes . Some commentators have pointed out that this work mirrored his failure to succeed in the Parisian artistic environment, but it is worth pointing out that this visit also produced the Paris symphony K297, an extrovert work of sunny disposition. Also, in July of that fateful year, his mother died after a short illness. Is his personal loss reflected in the turbulence of this work? Ferrati’s performance certainly portrays darkness, emptiness and desolation. Here there is no peace or resolution. I did, however, feel that the first movement was little too hard driven compared with Pires in 1974 (Brilliant Classics 927330) and Uchida in her 1985 recording (Philips 422 517). I also like the way that Pires is more expressive and ardent in the middle movement; after all, it is marked con espressione. Yet Ferrati does strike the right balance in the presto finale.
Sonata form is completely abandoned in the K331 sonata in A major (1783). This is probably the best known and frequently played of the all Mozart’s sonatas. I was looking for a fresh take on this over-popularized work. I’m afraid I did not find it here. The theme of the variation movement is a graceful siciliano-like melody. Ferrati’s performance is staid, lacking the grace, charm and delicacy of the Pires version. The Rondo alla Turca fares somewhat better, successfully evoking a Turkish march.
The piano sound on this recording is very forward and many, like me, may find it over-bright. The booklet notes are adequate. Whilst this is a very well thought-out program in terms of interest and contrast, these performances would not be my first choice.
Stephen Greenbank