MOZART Piano Sonatas Nos 1, 2, 8, 9 & 17
The first four Ws (Who, What, Where, When) seemed clear-cut: Christian Blackshaw plays Mozart sonatas at Wigmore Hall in 2012. But the last W, ‘Why’, eluded me at first. After all, do we really need another Mozart cycle, and from a relatively unknown pianist in his sixties? In any event, I dutifully loaded in the CDs; and within half a minute Blackshaw’s mindful yet spontaneous virtuosity, pinpointed sense of character and utterly alive music-making completely disarmed my scepticism. His light touch and unpredictable yet never contrived-sounding accents in the outer movements of the C major Sonata (K279) are akin to a master actor who knows how to throw away a good line. Listen to the Adagio of the F major (K280), and how Blackshaw balances imitative phrases between one hand and the other to ravishing, three-dimensional effect, or how Mozart’s witty, ingenious deployment of keyboard registers in the Presto hit home. And let’s not forget Blackshaw’s gorgeous tone and split-second timing of the embellishments in the Rondeau of the D major Sonata (K311).
He takes the finale of the A minor (K310) at an optimistic clip, yet the control of voicing and cannily scaled dynamics rivet your attention in every bar. Of course, I wouldn’t be a true Gramophone critic if I didn’t find one nit to pick, so to speak, and that concerns Blackshaw slightly holding back in the first movement of the B flat Sonata (K570). But he compensates by playing up the Allegretto’s syncopations through discreetly varied articulations and accents. The recording quality reasonably mirrors one’s perspective of Wigmore Hall’s stage from a close-up audience seat. Now to answer my earlier question: we need Vol 2.