Christian Blackshaw plays Mozart Piano Sonatas at Wigmore Hall – 1

Mozart
Piano Sonatas – in C, K279; in F, K280; in D, K311; in B flat, K570; in A minor, K310

Christian Blackshaw (piano)


Reviewed by: Graham Rogers

Reviewed: 6 January, 2012
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Mozart’s sonatas for piano are less extrovert than his concertos for it, which is probably why they are less well-known – but, in the first recital of his Wigmore Hall cycle of this particular oeuvre, Christian Blackshaw proved emphatically that the sonatas are packed with as many musical delights and as much variety. He sees these works as mini-operas, a view borne out persuasively in these enthralling performances.

The lively outer movements sparkled with nimble-fingered brilliance – Blackshaw’s dexterous negotiation, at high speed, of the potentially fiendish chromaticism in the first movement of K280 was particularly impressive. But it was the slow movements that brought out Blackshaw’s most special qualities. He made the piano sing with a rare eloquence, conjuring poignancy and profundity from what is often, seemingly, the most unassuming music. The exquisitely liquid playing of K280’s Adagio imbued the arioso-like melody with yearning plaintiveness; and I have seldom heard a piano vocalise more soulfully than in the Andante con espressione of K311.

Blackshaw’s masterful touch ensured performances that were never less than beautiful, but which also mined vast depths of insight. The emotions always stemmed from the music with nothing superficially theatrical about his operatic take on it: the deeply considered mien of the first movement of K310 eschewed Sturm und Drang histrionics. From Blackshaw the minor-key episode of the slow movement was extraordinarily impassioned; while the bright, major-key interlude in the intense finale seemed uncannily like a joyous rustic folk-dance.

Blackshaw’s remarkable precision and fluidity ensured there was barely a note out of place (making it an especial shame that the hushed concluding notes of K310’s slow movement were fudged). There was though sometimes a lack of clarity in the most rapid contrapuntal passages, especially in the lower register, the inevitable price of using a modern Steinway for repertoire that was written for the brittle tones of a fortepiano.

Blackshaw’s propensity to perform in a barely-lit auditorium paid great dividends: the darkness seemed to concentrate attention, the audience sitting, for the most part, in rapt silence. Modestly, Blackshaw stepped further back into the shadows to take his bows during the hearty and sustained applause. Playing of this calibre ensures that this cycle is unmissable.


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