This third release in Christian Blackshaw’s Wigmore Hall survey of Mozart’s Piano Sonatas is every bit as impressive and engaging as the first two. The first movement of the D-major Sonata (K284) has sparkle and energy, poise too, and one shares the relish with which Blackshaw engages the notes, his technique secure, his head and heart as one, the latter to the fore in the simple but affecting middle-movement Andante. How gently and confidingly Blackshaw introduces the Theme for the Finale’s set of Variations, each a diverting commentary to make a substantial envoi.
The great F-major Sonata (K332) follows, the first movement unfolded with patrician grace. But my one complaint, a formal one, is the sometimes lack of second-half repeats, often needed for sheer pleasure (it being better to journey than to arrive) and also to better balance the dimensions of multi-movement pieces: thus the (here) nearly 20-minute finale of K284 completely dwarfs its companions, the first movement, with one repeat, would be better balanced to what is to come with the second one also taken. In K332 though the proportions are at least exact – approximately 7, 6, 7 – yet with all repeats taken the work is then appropriately its grand size. That said, Blackshaw’s account of this altogether-special piece is thoroughly appealing and particularly eloquent and revealing in the Adagio. The Finale combines rapidity, clarity, expressive changes and (good for the ears) dynamic variance.
The second disc opens with K545. Ah, the nostalgia this music exudes for those of us who took piano lessons and found this ‘easy’ Sonata anything but ... it is rather tricky! It’s also charming. Blackshaw ensures that the first movement (with its intricate development section) is perfectly paced and given ‘straight’, to advantage and cueing a few smiles: one’s troubles just melt away. Both repeats taken, too. The Andante, with its Alberti bass (a nightmare to sustain, I found!) is quite lovely and given with compassion from Blackshaw (who is especially tender when Mozart employs some subtle dissonance), searching music which is anything but lightweight. The Finale dances with puckish good humour.
The culmination of the recital is the coming-together of K475 and K457, close on forty minutes if taken together (but there is an aural black-spot here), and related by the key of C-minor. Blackshaw is not the first to do this – Mitsuko Uchida does, for example, but I believe Alfred Brendel abhorred the practice. Blackshaw unfurls the Fantasie with gravitas, the music has time on its side, and there are dramatic contrasts along the way while delving into disquieting realms: Beethoven is waiting in the wings. The last thing I wanted to hear at its close was clapping! It is so disruptive.
Preferable, then, to go straight into the three-movement Sonata (to maintain connections), as does Uchida with minimal gap, albeit under studio conditions, of which Blackshaw gives a properly turbulent account of the opening Molto allegro (and with both halves recurring, essential), athletic and shapely, and using the full resources of a modern piano. The sublime (if slightly quizzical) Adagio is balm to the soul in its transcendent import, and the surreptitious Finale is given full value, Blackshaw the master of its hesitancies and determination.
The recording is immediate and lucid (if with a few pings on forte treble notes), and therefore is mostly faithful to Wigmore Hall’s acoustic excellence. As you will realise, applause is retained at the end of each work. Christian Blackshaw has once again done justice to Mozart’s Piano Sonatas (the CD releases mirror the Wigmore recitals). There are four such works to be issued (making the required eighteen) ... looking forward immensely.