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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791) Piano Sonatas
Piano Sonata in D, K576 [13:46]
Piano Sonata in G, K283 [16:39]
Piano Sonata in F, K332 [18:38]
Piano Sonata in B flat, K570 [18:28]
Rondo in D, K485 [5:56]
Gigue in G, K574 [1:25]
Piano Sonata in C, K330 [19:27]
Piano Sonata in B flat, K333 [20:10]
Piano Sonata in C, K545 [8:33]
Piano Sonata in E flat, K282 [13:10]
Rondo in a minor, K511 [11:11]
Fantasia in d minor, K397 [6:58]
Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, 2013. DDD
(2 CDs for the price of one) HYPERION CDA68029 [74:52 + 79:29]
Is there no area of piano performance in which Marc-André Hamelin does
not excel? Having heard or reviewed some of his excellent performances
of Chopin, Brahms, Debussy and Alkan, it is a pleasure to know that
he is equally at home in the classics.
In these new recordings from Hyperion we have a mixture of early and
later sonatas, all performed impeccably and recorded to Hyperion’s usual
high standards. If we take one of Mozart’s early sonatas such as K283
we hear right from the start how well Hamelin understands the style.
He faithfully interprets the text as written by Mozart, but at the same
time imbues the performance with personality and character. Hamelin
pays great attention to dynamics and articulation as required by the
composer, but he adds a really subtle rubato which is most effective
and appealing. I am particularly struck by the way in which he gives
each theme or idea its own meaning whilst never losing sight of the
structure as a whole.
He brings true drama to the short development sections, particularly
in the Andante second movement which provides a portent of things
to come in his later works. The concluding Presto begins jauntily
enough, but it is not just a light-hearted conclusion to the work. To
begin with, it is unexpectedly long especially if all the repeats are
observed, and there are moments of heightened drama and tension.
My own favourite of these early sonatas is K282 with its sublime opening
Adagio, thoughtfully played here by Hamelin. He judges well the
lighter mood of the second theme with its sudden, unexpected contrasts
in dynamics. The rhythms of this Adagio are quite contrasted
in its various sections, but Hamelin maintains a convincing pulse in
spite of his considerable use of rubato. Then follows a simpler
movement consisting of two minuets , and this is in its turn
succeeded by a vivacious Allego requiring Hamelin’s nimble fingers
to do their work. Woe betide the pianist who makes an error in fingering
here, as many of my students have discovered to their cost.
However the most famous sonata by Mozart usually attempted by students
is K545. Mozart composed this ‘Little Sonata for beginners’ for his
pupils and when it was published much later it was known as ‘Sonata
facile’. Hamelin plays the beginning very expressively and without a
sense of hurry, just right for this music which must be at a speed which
allows the faster notes to speak. Soon the music is moving forward pretty
swiftly, though, and here Hamelin brings particular clarity to the semiquaver
passages. It is perhaps a mistake to think of this movement as ‘facile’.
It takes a lot of skill to bring it off successfully. The ensuing Andante
moves forward more quickly than we normally hear and Hamelin does the
right thing in omitting all the repeats. This movement has so much repetition
anyway, and Hamelin’s way with it is very effective. So often performances
of this feel like a marathon, played too slowly and with many repeats.
Next Hamelin gives us a lively interpretation of the Rondo finale.
There is an attractive lyricism to Hamelin’s performance of the opening
Allegro ofK332, a piece full of contrasting material all
deftly characterised by our pianist. His fiery approach to the ensuing
section and the wit of his attack in the heavily syncopated passages
are very effective. The Adagio movement sings like an operatic
aria, and Hamelin makes us feel that we are listening to all the details
of the Countess’s sad story in Figaro.
The final Allegro assai begins with a sudden whirlwind of semiquavers
played with such velocity, but also clarity, that I can hardly believe
my ears. Hamelin demonstrates his virtuosity here but never at the expense
of the music. We hear a similar mix of moods, emotions and contrasts
in Mozart’s final piano sonata K576. Again we have a richly coloured
second movement Adagio followed by a finale characterised by
extreme virtuosity. Listen to the triplet semiquavers which first appear
near the beginning in the left hand. Hamelin plays all these passages
seemingly effortlessly with genuine excitement, and always with great
clarity of texture and articulation.
In Hamelin’s performance, the opening Andante of the Fantasia
in D minor K397 sets a tragic tone and the arpeggio figures lead
us to an even sadder main theme. Hamelin controls the ever-varying tempi
of the several short sections in masterly fashion, though other pianists
would interpret this in a rather more classical, less emotional way.
Nonetheless this is very convincing, except perhaps for the final coda
where Hamelin provides his own, rather dull, replacement for Breitkopf
and Härtel’s — fairly perfunctory it has to be said — conclusion, which
is attached from the point where Mozart’s autograph finishes.
Another melancholic piece is the Rondo in A Minor K581,which
again begins in tragic mood, but this too receives a very convincing
This recording is one of the best of Mozart piano sonata performances
I can ever remember hearing. For a complete set of the sonatas, my benchmark
has always been Mitsuko Uchido (Philips Collectors’ Edition 4683562,
5 CDs, budget price), but Mark-André Hamelin’s outstanding recording
is up there with the best.