On the musical side… this is pure Bredel.
While its unpretentious cover photo and small text don't proclaim it as an important recording, Noriko Ogawa's 2012 SACD of Mozart piano sonatas is the kind of sleeper album that quietly asserts its value and convinces purely through the beauty of the music. The three piano sonatas presented here also have that kind of unassuming quality. Mozart composed them as teaching pieces, suitable for players of modest skills, yet they have become extremely popular and rank among his best loved works. Ogawa plays them with a light touch that suits their simplicity, and her interpretations of K. 330, K. 331 (famous for its Rondo alla Turca), and K. 332 are transparent and almost naïve, but for the subtlety of attack, balanced phrasing, and shaded dynamics that reveal her artistry. BIS provides nearly ideal sound quality for Ogawa, offering clean reproduction and reasonably close microphone placement that make listening effortless.
Even though Marc-André Hamelin is world-renowned for his astonishing virtuosity and a massive repertoire of the most demanding piano works, including those of Scriabin, Godowsky, and Sorabji, he has startled many with his sudden turn toward the placid domain of Classical music. First came his critically acclaimed recordings of Franz Joseph Haydn's keyboard sonatas, which were surprise best-sellers for Hyperion, and here he offers a double-CD of the piano sonatas of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with a handful of short pieces to round out the discs. Since Hamelin's fine reputation precedes him, suffice it to say that these are among the most meticulously played and wittily interpreted renditions of these pieces ever recorded. Even though Mozart's sonatas are tamer than the showpieces of pianistic derring-do normally associated with Hamelin, they are endlessly fascinating for their skillfully crafted details, subtle phrases, and elegant expressions. Since the issue isn't how Hamelin manages all the notes, but instead how he shapes them into such entertaining and moving performances, there is much food for thought in this album, and anyone who attentively follows his playing will find a deeper appreciation of Mozart. Highly recommended.
On the evidence of this 1985 collection, Daniel Barenboim sees Mozart's piano sonatas as works for the concert hall rather than the drawing room, and he treats them, in many cases, merely as opportunities for pianistic sport. To be sure, the virtuosic passages are very athletically done, but Barenboim's steely fingered and unsubtle approach deprives the music of much of its elegance and feline grace. For an idea of just how heavy the weather can get, listen to the opening of the C minor Fantasia, K. 475. The marking is forte, but Barenboim lands on the octave C's like a safe on a 10-story drop, detonating the B-flats and A-flats that follow as if he were negotiating one of Liszt's nastier potboilers. He does the same with the left-hand octaves in the "Piu Allegro," and so on to the end of the piece. As a demonstration of piano fortitude, it's impressive, but it doesn't sound much like Mozart–unless, of course, you like your Mozart on the strong side. The engineering gives lots of weight and presence to the piano, but several tracks also exhibit a "hot ground" hum (especially noticeable in the slow movements of K. 279, 280, and 284), which may indeed be disturbing for those who are listening on good equipment. For a more sensitive interpretation, you might consider Mitsuko Uchida's traversal, though it lacks the Barenboim set's bargain price tag. –Ted Libbey