Mozart Piano CDs reviewed


MOZART PIANO SONATAS VOL.2: Peter Donohoe (Somm Recordings SOMMCD 0198) ★★★★★

The Rondo in A Minor, K. 511 is added as a bonus item but succinctly captures Peter Donohoe's approach to Mozart. This rarely-recorded work provides a fascinating contrast with Mitsuko Uchida's performance on her 1980s traversal of the complete sonatas, my benchmark set. Donohoe's style is trenchant and powerful, the clarity of his Bechstein's bass reinforcing the effect, and swift too – 8.50 to Uchida's spacious 10.58. Uchida, with a velvety-sounding Steinway, explores the piece's shadows, revealing its proto-Romantic qualities. Those different approaches (equally valid) are evident in the performances of sonatas No. 7 in C Major, K. 309 and No. 8 in A Minor, K. 310. In the bleakly tragic K.310 it's Donohoe who registers the maestoso marking more clearly, while Uchida, more expansive, plunges even deeper into the andante's melancholy. In No. 9 in D Major, K. 311, however, there's little to separate them and both are beautifully played.

MOZART: Biret / London Mozart Players / Worthing Symphony Orchestra / Gibbons (2 CDs Idil Biret IBA060/61) ★★

The 77-year-old Turkish pianist Idil Biret made these live recordings of Mozart piano concertos in 2015 (No.15 K.450 and No.24 K.491 in London) and 2018 (No.25 K.503 and No.27 K.595 in Worthing) all conducted by John Gibbons. Tempos are broad – concertos 24 and 27 both last nearly 34 minutes – lines are shaped with care, embellishments are minimal, but Biret's playing lacks the sparkle and mercurial changes of mood that the finest performances capture. Both bands, who share some principal players in common, are made up of seasoned London freelances so the playing is thoroughly professional. However the wit, imagination and illuminating felicities that, for example, the English Chamber Orchestra provided for Barenboim, Perahia and Uchida – particularly Mozart's rich and wondrous wind-band writing – are not heard enough. These recordings on Biret's own label (with unfortunate cover typo) are for fans only and don't seriously compete with the formidable Mozart concerto back-catalogue.

Norman Stinchcombe

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