MOZART: Piano Sonata No. 11 in A Major; Piano Sonata No. 17 in B-flat Major; Piano No. 18 in D Major – Menahem Pressler, p. – La Dolce Volta

MOZART: Piano Sonata No. 11 in A Major, K. 331; Piano Sonata No. 17 in B-flat Major, K. 570; Piano No. 18 in D Major, K. 576 – Menahem Pressler, piano – La Dolce Volta LPV 19, 61:20 (4/14/15) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Recorded 19-21 September 2014, the three Mozart sonatas inscribed here by veteran Menahem Pressler (b. 1923) constitute a new survey of the complete Mozart sonatas, a project Pressler characterizes as “a genuine mission.” Pressler claims these three sonatas with particular affection, remarking that his association with the A Major Sonata extends over eighty-five years.

The 1783 A Major Sonata, a product of period in Salzburg in which Mozart introduced his new wife to his father, contains three movements, nine of which conform to sonata-form. The opening Andante grazioso presents Pressler with a theme and six variations, which he takes in a broad, perhaps inflated, fashion which does show off his lyrical concept of the Mozart style.  The empfindsamkeit elements manifest themselves in sonorous, arioso melodic lines, made so much softer when the left hand over-rides the right, mano sinistra, in the treble part.  In respect of his familiarity with the Mozart ethos, Pressler assumes the mantle once worn by Mieczyslaw Horszowski.  The Alberti bass figures – along with the operatic fioritura, the pre-Beethoven sforzatos and appoggiaturas – guarantee a plethora of charmed color effects in this fluid interpretation. Pressler’s Menuet, too, benefits from his studied accents and delicate, textural clarity. Much in the spirit of his opera The Abduction from the Seraglio, the famed Rondo alla Turca scampers in the Janissary style fashionable for the invocation of “the Turk” in music.  Pressler adopts a decided marcato approach, limpid but not brilliant for sheer virtuosity’s sake. Swagger and charm infiltrate the snare drum and fife evoked in this nobly gracious performance, in love with the Mozart magic for its own sake.

The 1789 Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, K. 570 shares with several late keyboard works a sense of resigned melancholy. Pressler engages the first movement Allegro directly, making pearly play of its main theme which seems to lack a contrasting counter-theme, although the music modulates from B-flat to E-flat. Mozart generates tension by breaking the theme into distinct parts and playing fragments against each other. The Adagio in E-flat Major combines simplicity and vocal poignancy, invoking in its unusual rondo form an affect close to the dark Concerto No. 24 in C Minor.  A contrapuntal elan marks the final movement, a rondo with two episodes, the first’s proffering an agile, leap in light figures that invoke opera buffa. The dance intensifies, especially in the hearty bass figures, but Pressler keeps the motion fleet, expressive, and colorful.

Mozart’s discovery of Bach keyboard works influences his Piano Sonata in D Major, K. 576 from July 189. The opening motif of the Allegro derives from the arpeggio of the tonic triad, wherein Mozart opts for contrapuntal treatment of its “trumpet” color. The move to the A Minor mode grants a particular pathos to the intricate developmental mastery, smoothly rendered by Pressler. Out of a relatively simple idea Mozart’s spins enchanted magic, and Pressler has maintained its holy innocence. Mozart carefully notes his ornamentation for the ensuing A Major Adagio, its chromatic evolution soon headed for F-sharp Minor, similar to the key relations in the Concerto in A, K. 488. The music assumes a Baroque affect, close to the melancholy fantasias in the minor key Mozart conceived that utilize similar scalar passagework and appoggiaturas. The final Allegretto begins as a simple tune, but Mozart enters into a potent contrapuntal development, setting the melody against triplet sixteenth notes. Imitation and polyphony define the course of this intricate web of keyboard tissue, inversions and double counterpoint not the least of the lessons Mozart imbibed from Bach. Perhaps the many financial distresses that plagued Mozart at this time took refuge in the maze of torrid emotions so often concealed under what appears to be a playful surface.

—Gary Lemco

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