MOZART Complete Piano Sonatas. Lowy (Musical Heritage Society) – INKPOT
The Complete Piano Sonatas (6 CDs)
Piano Sonatas K. 279, 280, 281, 282
Piano Sonatas K. 283, 284, 309
Piano Sonatas K. 311, 310, 330
Piano Sonatas K. 331, 332, 333
Fantasie K.475, Piano Sonatas K. 457, 533/494
Piano Sonatas K. 545, 570, 576
HEIDI LOWY pianoforte
MUSICAL HERITAGE SOCIETY 566052F
[75:45, 68:43, 64:42, 69:49, 59:11, 51:55]
Also available separately on the Musicians Showcase label
Each volume corresponds to the individual discs in the complete set, as listed above.
Vol.1 MS 1026 · Vol.2 MS 1036 · Vol.3 MS 1039
Vol.4 MS 1040 · Vol.5 MS 1041 · Vol.6 MS 1044
by Benjamin Chee
The problem with Mozart’s piano sonatas, one presupposes, is the tendency of pianists to approach them with a fragility one might reserve for handling Wedgewood china. Like Haydn, Mozart generally wrote his keyboard music with the implicit option for it to be playable on either the harpsichord or the piano (which, we have to remember, was only invented thirty years before Mozart’s birth).
In any case, the piano sonata was a relatively late addition to the genre in Mozart’s output, although most readers will have heard of his legendary powers of composition: violin sonatas by the age of six, a symphony by the age of nine, opera and piano concerto at eleven, and a string quartet at fourteen.
But for the piano sonata, the earliest surviving work in the genre is a Sonata in C, K.279 which dates from his nineteenth year, written in Munich while he was supervising the production of La finta giardiniera – and this only after being prompted with a commission. There are four extant works which predate this one, although they are lost to us today.
For the most part, there is considerable flair and technique in these new performances by Heidi Lowy. Indeed, one should expect no less for any pianist tackling one of the cornerstones of the classical piano repertoire. Ms Lowy’s direct approach finds a great deal of musicality, with finely etched details and intelligent playing. Her technique is faultless, and all the ornaments and “twiddly bits” are sheer delight.
The opening Andante of K.282, for example, contains a poetic hint of Chopin, while the Presto of K.283 sparkles with sheer champagne-like efferversence. The spirito of the Allegro in K.311 is certainly not missing, either, and the right-hand fingerwork and pedal in K.570 is particularly impressive.
However, as well-prepared as the performance is, there is a slight tendency towards an idiosyncratic approach: while such an approach will not necessarily fail (with regards to Mozart), neither does it score too many points. The rubatos – albeit sparingly applied – are rather self-conscious (which seems to be the watchword here), even threatening rhythmic distortion at times.
The skip-and-hop melodic line in the Rondeau of K.281, for example, is rather guarded; the famous Andante of K.283 is similarly restrained whereas an additional nuance or two of pensiveness would have made it just right. The slow movement of K.330 seems to possess a touch of wilfulness that needs some getting accustomed to. The Sonata in C K.545, the so-called “Sonata for Beginners” and every piano student’s bane (or boon), should sparkle like champagne – yet there are hints and nuances of self-consciousness that mute the effervescence.
But that is not to say that all is lost. Of the sonatas in this set of albums, my personal favourite is the Sonata in C, K.309, which is played with much élan and character; even so, there is still much to enjoy in the other works. The Sonata in A, K.331 also deserves a meritorious mention here. Not many pianists adopt the quite-literal “walking pace” Andante at which Lowy takes the first movement, but it works surprisingly well here: contemplative, without getting too indulgent, and I found myself warming to it on repeated listening.
This recording, made in the American Academy of Arts and Letters in New York, is crisp and clean. The piano is made to sound very close to the listener, which definitely adds to the intimacy of the reading and rather makes one listen very intensely. I for one have never advocated that one can perfectly reproduce the sound of a Steinway Grand in one’s living room, even with audiophile-grade equipment, but when I cranked up the volume on my trusty bookshelf Inifinities, there it was – a concert grand in the veritable flesh. Amazing.
Above all, here are engaging performances that convey a sense of emerging pianism. Heidi Lowy has a good feel for Mozart and delivers a well-considered account of the works, if at times bordering on the deliberate. Not that Ms Lowy delivers a pedantic reading – far from it – but perhaps in trying too hard, for the listener is made acutely aware of the mental preparation which has gone into it, and sometimes the result misses something and fails to seduce the listener.
But what we do have is someone taking her best shot at Mozart, and while not hitting the bullseye always, at least comes close most of the time. And when she does hit the spot, it is nigh sublime. One senses that Ms Lowy would be, in person, quite a fascinating recitalist to listen to.
In the meantime, these are definitely performances which do not sink their hooks into your aural centres from the get-go, but rather (and somewhat insidiously) grow on you. This is Mozartian pianism at its most intrepid, and this alone would be reason enough to get this set. If one’s budget does not run to the full set, the Third Volume (with K.311, 310 and 330; Musicians Showcase MS1039) has nice enough things on it as sampler.
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