MOZART Complete Piano Sonatas – Uchida
Collectors can now buy Uchida's widely esteemed Mozart cycle as a single six-CD (or seven-LP) package very conveniently arranged in chronological sequence, the 18 sonatas themselves (and the C minor Fantasia, K475 linked with the K475 Sonata in that key) followed by the five shorter pieces for which she found a place on her original discs. All that in itself constitutes considerable competition for Zacharias, whose own Mozart series (the first two of the six separately issued CDs were reviewed in these pages in December 1987) includes only the sonatas played in lucky-dip order. Like Arrau on his Philips series, Zacharias chooses to observe practically every repeat—in first movements not just the repeat of the exposition but the development and recapitulation too. Uchida, to my mind, is much more judicious in this respect. That's why her set can include such gems as the A minor Rondo and B minor Adagio too.
Both artists are very well recorded. In fact, I've rarely heard a more natural-sounding reproduction of a piano than Uchida's in London's Henry Wood Hall. In his German venues Zacharias often emerges lighter and more glistening, a shade less full-bodied. In their sound-world, both recordings struck me as ideally attuned to each player's special style.
Generalizations, as we all know, can be dangerous. But in general Uchida's Mozart could be described as the more authoritative of the two. As so often before, I again had the impression that she has thought long and deeply about the music, and has completely made up her mind as to how she wants it to go. Zacharias (rather like Andras Schiff on Decca) seems to leave more to spontaneous keyboard impulse. Impulse is certainly the word where rhythm is concerned, for while always a genuine enough response to the mood of the moment, his time-keeping (especially in slow movements) lacks Uchida's basic stability. Tiny details of ornamentation also sound as if done in the delight of the moment (certainly in these four volumes there are none of the excesses that worried some reviewers in the first two).
All in all I enjoyed Zacharias most in the earlier works, especially his light-fingered sparkle in livelier moods. He relishes flashes of surprise and wit in the music's constructional cunning more overtly than Uchida—and not least in the concluding variations of the 'Durnitz' Sonata in D, K284. Even if his daredevil exuberance here overflows in a few questionable liberties of tempo change, I'm sure Mozart himself would have smiled. But at the risk of being branded a killjoy, I cannot condone his introduction of his wife to manipulate what he calls the ''janissary stops'' (i.e. extraneous percussion) towards the end of an alreadily somewhat crudely accented and coloured Alla turca finale in the A major Sonata, K331. Nor, incidentally, do I like his plunge into its Menuetto at exactly the same tempo as he ended the first movement variations—just as if it were yet one more of them.
My main disappointment was nevertheless in the maturer slow movements. Even in the Adagio opening of the early E flat Sonata, K282, his phrasing lacks Uchida's sustained poise and breadth. In later contexts like the Andante cantabile con espressione in K310 in A minor, the Adagio of K457 in C minor and most of all, the great Andante of K533 in F, the little extra time she allows herself brings a more laden as well as more shapely melodie line (though his embellishment has an exquisite delicacy all its own), just as her far stricter observance of Mozart's own dynamic markings results in greater depth and intensity of characterization in general. Nowhere is Zacharias more misguided in this latter respect than in his smoothing out of the pain and stress in the course of that K533 Andante. Some of the faster movements of the later sonatas also struck me as more urgently motivated from Uchida, notably in K457 in C minor. In toto her greater maturity and purity win the day: of this pair I would definitely recommend her as the more consistently reliable guide. But in his less predictable way Zacharias remains a Mozartian of refreshing spontaneity, often reminding me of the composer encountered in those ever engaging early letters.'