This collection of Mozart’s late sonatas concludes the cycle of complete piano sonatas by Elizabeth Rich, a pupil of Ernst Oster’s vertical approach to musical analysis. Played lovingly on the Steinway D (2002) and nicely produced by E. Alan Silver, the Rich interpretations convey quick musical intelligence as well as digital finesse. The F Major, K. 547a (c. 1788), better known in its version for violin and piano, emerges as a neglected masterpiece of high, concentrated order, right up there with the Duport Variations. The arioso character of the six variations of movement two often hint at the lyricism of Cosi fan tutte. Mozart’s chromatic compression shows the influence of his own Bach studies, models whose ethos informs much of Mozart’s final period of work. The B-flat Sonata (1789) refines the galant style and emotional (empfindsamkeit) elements to an elixir of pure simplicity. The economy of means is matched only by the sweet naivete of the singing line. The Adagio is a slow rondo with many kinships to the famed A Minor Rondo, K. 511. Beethoven may have had it in mind when he composed his Sonata No. 24 in F# Major, Op. 78. Rich plays the witty and chromatic counterpoints of the final Allegretto with restrained relish.
Ms. Rich plays the D Major “Trumpet” Sonata (1798) as a synthesis of Mozart lyric fancy and strict Bach models. The transparency of texture belies the wayward, chromatic modulations Mozart explores, often pointing the way for Schubert. The left hand part obtrudes itself in most aggressive fashion. Serene, plastic control marks Rich’s style. The Adagio movement becomes one of those “crystal chandeliers” in music that lies suspended in its own space. The last movement Allegretto plays its own tunes against itself in brilliant, music-box counterpoint, another distillation of learned techniques to the illusion of guilelessness. Finally, Beethoven’s popular C Minor Sonata (1799), here rendered for its indebtedness to Mozart’s C Minor Fantasy and Sonata. The similarities of means–progressions downward to F# and the like–only illustrate Beethoven’s further compression of Mozart’s affects to his own ends, the playing of chromatic agony against the diatonism of his will. Rich takes a thoroughly pearly, Apollinian approach to this often demonized work, playing it for studied contrasts in tone and texture. What auditors will find intriguing is Rich’s adherence to editor Anton Schindler’s execution marks to add color and structural sense to the proceedings. This entire Mozart project warrants any record collector’s serious consideration as a major contribution to the genre.