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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756 - 1791)
Piano Sonatas - Volume 4
Sonata in B-flat major, K. 281
Sonata in G major, K. 283
Sonata in B-flat major, K. 333
Sonata in D major, K. 576
William Youn (piano)
rec. Studio 2, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich, April/May 2016

The current disc represents Oehms Classics’ continuing project recording Mozart’s piano sonatas with the Korean pianist William Youn. Previously, Youn enjoyed a span of successes in three recordings of Mozart’s piano sonatas with the same record label. There is a sense that the young pianist is fast establishing himself as a bright Mozartian, and these recordings have been noted for their lyrical poeticism.

In the current fourth volume of the series, two of Mozart’s most virtuosic sonatas, the B-flat major (K. 281) and D major (K. 576) sonatas, frame the congenial G major (K. 283) and the ambitious B-flat major (K. 333) sonatas. By presenting the selected works in chronological order, the trajectory of Mozart’s musical development in captured well.

Composed in his late teens, youthful vitality is the key word for the B-flat major (K. 281) sonata. Characteristically, Youn’s playing suggests an artist who is fully enjoying the occasion, without overheating yet never sparing in control. In the G major (K. 283) sonata, too, Youn’s approach befits the lightheartedly melodic nature of the work.

The next two works represent the longest and the last of Mozart’s piano sonatas, respectively. While scale in itself is in no ways a determinant of inherent musical qualities, increase of duration tends to typify gravitas of ambition and vastness of conception. The B-flat major (K. 333) sonata certainly demonstrates this point; compared to the two previously presented ‘pretty’ works, a leap of profundity is clearly evident. Composed in 1783, and at a similar time to the creation of the Linz symphony, this sonata presents a musical texture bearing a wealth of counterpoint, adventurous harmonic progression and emotional complexity characteristic of the maturing composer. On the other hand, the D major (K. 576) sonata was originally written as part of what is known as a series of “easy piano sonatas”, written for the Emperor Joseph II’s daughter Friederike. For all its intended charm, however, the final score of this work betrays its initial intentions, as in fact Mozart went on to create one of the most technically challenging works of his piano sonatas through this work.

In these two mature works, Youn’s playing continues to enchant. The subtle and inspired playing paints the architecture of the works without any hint of self-indulgence. I would like to concentrate on the B-flat major (K. 333) sonata in particular, as I was impressed with this work the most. In the first movement, where I have heard many emphasizing the second theme by proudly announcing its entrance, Youn tastefully blends the theme with its preceding context. Likewise, while the likes of Pires create inter-movement contrasts by slowing down the tempo significantly for the second movement Andante Cantabile compared to the athletic first movement, Youn, as if to demonstrate continuity, avoids such obvious transformation.As one might thus excpect, the third and last movement feels as if it is cut from the same cloth as the preceding movements.

Similar traits reside in the D major (K. 576) sonata, too. On the outside, Youn’s penchant for the avoidance of dramatically conceived contrasts and flexibility of tempo – as are felt amply in the cases of Barenboim’s or Arrau’s accounts – may give an impression of stodgy objectivism. Yet Youn’s aesthetics springs from a different well altogether. Here we have a world of natural finesse and poise. Themes blossom out gently, effortlessly linking to each other. In the Allegros, the music acquires an ebullience of momentous flow. In more relaxed sections, Youn rarely fails to excavate a sense of elegant contemplation in the score. Each note trickles and skips around radiantly and is projected with round care – scintillating pearls are carefully swept by a vision so personal and warm. I am sure the sound engineering has played a significant role here – the presence to the piano is ideally felt throughout the pieces.

If I ever miss Eschenbach’s commanding recordings from the 60s, it is due to my thirst for clearly accented playing. I also found myself thinking of Schiff’s more forward paced recordings with Decca. Yet Youn’s performances with their thoughtful and gentle touch of style are far from being turgid, and in fact are ones I will constantly reach for. The sheer artistic integrity gives birth to a unique form of covert intensity – indeed, ‘poetic’ may be the best word to describe this phenomenon.

If my memory has not mislead me, Youn is set to release the final statement of Mozart’s piano sonatas with Oehms Classics. Assuming the presence of an artistry similar to that demonstrated in the current disc, the completed set will unquestionable stand out as an enduring cycle attracting both newcomers and veterans of Mozart’s piano sonata alike.
Young-Jin Hur



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