Mozart Piano Sonatas
There is pleasure in meeting again the qualities that make Brendel such a stimulating Mozart player: his probing curiosity about the character of these pieces, perhaps above all, and a concern that an interpretation of the text should involve itself with much more than the surface attractions. He is so good at animating the music in terms of worlds beyond the piano, in which an orchestra or singer or wind ensemble may be suggested, or even the theatre or opera house, with personages moving as if in a stage-picture. He does this strongly and sonorously and makes one wonder how Mozart’s solo piano music can ever have been read so literally by many players. But the apparatus of interpretation does not obtrude. Forget it, if you will, and enjoy the light and shade, the richness of allusions and the sensibility of an exceptional Mozartian as he lets the composer tell him what to do.
I like, too, the feeling of a spatial dimension he conveys: the phrases achieve shapes as large as they need to be, unfettered, the frame for each composition fashioned according to the life and movement within it, from the music itself. Questions as to the scale and style appropriate to Mozart on the modern piano would not appear to be particularly interesting to Brendel, and he uses as much sound and colour (and pedal) as he feels necessary. In the F major Sonata, K533/494, he makes us conscious of the nature and the compass of the piano, as Mozart knew it, so that we hear top F and bottom F as the limits of the territory and the pronounced distinctiveness of the registers in between. These are aspects of Mozart’s writing which today’s concert pianos tend to iron out. Similarly, the A minor Sonata, K310, leaves you in no doubt as to the advance it represents in weight and intensity over all previous sonatas; I would have welcomed sharper contrasts of dynamics however. By the side of these two great pieces the D major Sonata, K311, inevitably appears less personal, at least in its first two movements, but one couldn’t ask for it to be filled out with more relish. The D minor Fantasy, an important piece deriving maybe from an improvisation, precedes it in this order of items, its stature made thrillingly manifest, and you could try going from the one into the other in the way Mozart is said sometimes to have extemporised a fantasy before playing a sonata.
So, an absorbing recital, in which Brendel’s variety of touch and articulation ought also to be mentioned: it serves his rhetoric with an often surprising vividness of effect in staccato. The recording (Caird Hall, Dundee) presents him in very fine sound and with a degree of intimacy that I like, but that means putting up with some moans and groans. The booklet-notes by Misha Donat are everything such things should be, an enhancement of enjoyment.