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.
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.
This is the most beautiful of Mozart playing, his last piano concerto given here by Emil Gilels with total clarity. This is a classic performance, memorably accompanied by the VPO and Böhm. Suffice it to say that Gilels sees everything and exaggerates nothing, that the performance has an Olympian authority and serenity, and that the Larghetto is one of the glories of the gramophone. He's joined by his daughter Elena in the Double Piano Concerto in E flat, and their physical relationship is mirrored in the quality, and the mutual understanding of the playing: both works receive marvellous interpretations. We think Emil plays first, Elena second, but could be quite wrong. The VPO under Karl Böhm is at its best; and so is the quality of recording, with a good stereo separation of the two solo parts, highly desirable in this work.
When Richard Maunder's editions get together with Christopher Hogwood and co, you know instantly that the result will be spot on. The sound of the boy treble line (singing alto as well) is earthy yet in tune, and well complemented by the strong lower parts. The orchestra is supportive yet unobtrusive. The dynamics and phrasing are all well chosen and executed. The choice of soloists is inspired, especially Arleen Auger - such a beautiful voice. It is just a pity that there is not more on the disc - some have argued in the 'Dona ut Kyrie' tradition that an Agnus Dei could be tacked on at the end using the music of the Kyrie. An excellent recording.
The contents of the EMI box are too numerous to list but all the sonatas, variations, and most short pieces are here: absent is the London Sketchbook, which is trite juvenalia.
This work is very hard to characterize emotionally, but it sighs and it sings enigmatically. Surprisingly, so many performances are very straightforward, never capturing these soulful, longing qualities that almost approach reverie at times. Not so this time. The interplay here is amazing, Pires' delicate approach is ideal for this music, and the conducting is elastic in that "Furtwanglerian" way. But don't get the impression this is bloated, Romantic Mozart…it's not. (Maybe Furtwangler wasn't the right name to evoke after all.