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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Sonata No. 16 in C major, K.545 (1788) [12:40]
Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major (“Alla Turca”), K.331 (300i) (1783) [24:35]
Piano Sonata No. 12 in F major, K.332/300k (1778) [24:07]
Jennifer Lim (piano)
rec. 2014, Mendelssohn-Saal, Gewandhuis Leipzig.

Jennifer Lim has already recorded Chopin. There's also a Bach Goldberg Variations on the Italian RealSound label which is notable for its blistering speeds. Superlative technique and spectacular swiftness are no guarantee for musical durability but I embarked on her collection of Mozart sonatas with an open mind.

Presented in a mellow, quite round piano sound, I was actually quite surprised to read that Lim’s recording was made on a Steinway D having more or less convinced myself it must be something like a Blüthner or Bechstein. Lim’s technique is impeccable as you would expect, but there are only a few movements that have been stoked up for real show. I’m not against a bit of spectacle and who is to say Mozart didn’t play them with plenty of vim, but in fact Lim is a model of restraint for almost the entire CD. Slow movements such as the beautiful Adagio of the Piano Sonata No. 12 are taken with dreamy elegance, and the most famous movements such as the Alla Turca that concludes K 331 are sprightly rather than impetuous.

There is no shortage of Mozart piano sonatas on record, and Noriko Ogawa’s BIS recording of K 330-332 immediately came to mind by way of comparison (see review). Ogawa is less overtly spectacular in movements such as the Allegro assai of K 332 which is a wild ride with Lim. In terms of musicianship there is less between these two than you might expect. Even with Ogawa’s more developed dynamic shaping and phrasing there is no guarantee you will prefer one over the other. You might argue Lim is more superficial, and then turn to Ogawa and find yourself arguing that she is too detailed and micro-managing. Both are in fact excellent, and Lim plays with plenty of wit as well as feeling in something like the variations of that renowned Andante grazioso of K 331.

When it comes to Mozart’s piano sonatas my reference remains Mitsuko Uchida on Philips (see review), and in all of these pieces she is qualitatively still way ahead of these newcomers. In terms of expressive nuance Uchida knows exactly where to pull the strings and have us listening with melting obedience. The nature of this quality is hard to define, but for me is the difference between ‘playing Mozart’ and ‘creating music’; something like a great actor being able to let you forget you are hearing Shakespeare rather than absorbing the emotions and beauty of his language as something communicative and natural. Mozart is very well served by Jennifer Lim, but in the end I didn’t really learn anything new and would have preferred perhaps some less well-trodden repertoire.

Dominy Clements



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