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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Sonatas Volume 3
Piano Sonata No 10 in C, K330 (1783) [17:49]
Gigue in G, K574 (1789) [1:28]
Piano Sonata No 18 in D, K576 (1789) [13:30]
Adagio in B minor, K540 (1788) [9:24]
Piano Sonata No 11 in A, K331 (1783) [22:04]
Peter Donohoe (piano)
rec. 9-12 July 2018, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, UK

Most striking on this CD is Mozart’s eighteenth and final sonata, with a strong feeling of composing for the sheer fun of it. Donohoe’s opening is firm, robust, but also clearly analytical between the bold, masculine hunting call of the opening phrase with right and left hands in octaves, contrasted with the frilly second phrase, hinting at feminine mockery in its focus on decoration. Yet soon (tr. 5, 0:12) the man can only just start a repeat before the lady lets fly in high tessitura and the terrain is given over to semiquaver runs (0:22) before the lady takes over the hunting call in the stratosphere (0:36). From his quite formal opening, Donohoe has become unrecognisably mercurial, while the contrapuntal skill melding the two hands, and Donohoe’s playing, is breathtaking. The second theme, dolce (0:54) has a mellow cast: the lady briefly consoling and maternal. Donohoe makes the exposition repeat more brightly electric and smoothly moves to the development (2:36). The hunting call has a more serious, pressing purpose, the semiquaver frills become distraught, yet the sequencing of the hunting calls and Donohoe’s manner of playing this is the means of diffusing tension and leading smoothly to the recapitulation. Now the high tessitura semiquaver runs are further extended, the second theme and earlier developmental progression return, so you’re surrounded by cascades of semiquavers worked to an unexpected climax (4:41), after which the coda (4:46) displays the lady’s scattershot confidence: she can blaze and resolve.

I compare the 2013 live recording by Christian Blackshaw (Wigmore Hall Live WHLive0078/2, now only available as a download). Timing at 5:16 to Donohoe’s 4:54, Blackshaw’s tempo is more Allegretto than Allegro, emphasising melodic shaping and pure continuity rather than drama. His second theme is airier, less warm than Donohoe’s yet telling because its difference from all around is clear. Blackshaw’s climax is one of melody, not drama. Donohoe insists that pulse and drama are important in a more vivacious account of the engagement of dazzling characters.

In the Adagio slow movement, we’re in a starker world delineating a thin veil between contentment and distress: the chromatic end of phrase notes that pull the carpet from under your feet. E-natural becomes E-sharp (tr. 6, 0:22), G natural (0:56) replaces G-sharp. Donohoe plays calmly, clearly and lets everything evolve. The central section and second theme (1:08) is fully in anxiety mode. Can you escape this with demisemiquaver runs (1:36)? Donohoe plays these with engaging fluency yet also a certain airiness, as if a means of creating an illusion of distance from the essential problem which will and does return (2:03). Now Donohoe’s lament in spaciously applied recurring notes in the left hand is telling, most of all the deflating E-natural (2:22), where you expect the earlier E-sharp. Yet that’s the last shock. The demisemiquaver sleight-of-hand (2:30) is now accepted to get us back to the first theme recapitulation, in which those earlier unexpected notes have also become accepted, so the coda (3:53) is a gracious rounding off, Donohoe stylishly adding decoration in the repeat of its opening phrase.

With a timing of 6:20, Blackshaw’s is a very marked Adagio in comparison with Donohoe’s 4:30 that you might deem Adagietto. This gives Blackshaw an appreciably far-away quality of rarefied, exquisite contemplation. His chromatic end of phrase notes are taken in their stride as part of the overall exoticism. Similarly, his central section finds untroubled beauty in facing sadness directly, within which the left-hand discordant notes are assimilated: if you prefer frisson, go to Donohoe. I love the atmosphere Blackshaw creates but also welcome Donohoe’s greater harmonic clarity where Blackshaw chooses to spotlight the melodic line.

The Allegretto finale is both contrapuntally rigorous and in Donohoe’s performance stimulating in its effervescence. The opening motif is proposed five times, the entries shared by both hands. Its first repeat in the right hand acquires rumbustious tumbling in the left in triplets in semiquavers and those triplets are thereafter never far away. Imitation between the hands in short phrases, both often in the treble register, freshly displayed by Donohoe, is an attractive feature. A descending phrase (2:54) has a benign, summative codetta feel, the more so because it has already appeared once (1:02). You’re thankful for the quiet end after an ebullient final whirlwind of triplets.

With a timing of 4:28, Blackshaw’s Allegretto has less pep than Donohoe’s 3:54. Yet I like Blackshaw’s neatness, playfulness and crystalline running triplets; but if you prefer these more explosive, go to Donohoe, Blackshaw’s ‘summative’ descending phrase is more distanced where Donohoe progresses with more tension and more feel of a denouement.

Best movements of the other sonatas? From Sonata 10, the Andante cantabile slow movement, the loveliest melody on this CD: broad-spanned, warm F major, humane, a naturally flowing outline, climaxing midway through the second strain allowing reflection and resolution thereafter. Donohoe keeps the pulse very firm, so there’s a sense of unshakeable affirmation. The central section in F minor (tr. 2, 2:31) anticipates Schubert in introducing a time of sorrow and challenge, the response to which is an eloquent resolve. Donohoe tempers the climax of the second strain so it’s more urgent in repeat. The postlude (4:31), an afterthought by Mozart, reintroduces and resolves the central section opening, making a more effective transition to the opening section return, to which Donohoe adds more jubilant ornamentation.

Best from Sonata 11, the irrepressible Alla Turca Allegretto finale, probably Mozart’s most popular piano piece. The rondo theme is in A minor, but Donohoe plays it with a glittering sense of fun, the appoggiaturas lightly applied. Delight is confirmed when the louder refrain in A major (tr. 11, 0:41) is more joyous. The A major episode (0:56) is made more entertaining by Donohoe as he picks out a skeletal tune in the left hand while the right shimmers, fleet of foot. Donohoe’s coda (2:48) beams with zeal, the appoggiaturas now scrunched, yet the soft echo all charm and elegance.

Michael Greenhalgh

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