MOZART: Piano Sonatas (complete) – Daniel-Ben Pienaar, piano – Avie 2209 (5 CDs), 4:48:18 [Distr. by Allegro] ***:
This is not china-doll music-box Mozart; it is masculine, rugged, in your face, and often extremely aggressive. Tempos are most often up, with little chance of respite. Even in the slow movements I detect a certain impatience, as if waiting to get on with it. In places it can seem quite mechanical, Pienaar rigidly straight-jacketed in his trills and fast runs. All of this leads to a feeling of almost intrusive percussiveness in the piano sound, articulation of each note coming through loud and clear, yet in terms of overall detail somewhat recessed and cloudy at times.
Sometimes this works well, as in the Fantasie in C minor, K475, which Pienaar interesting appends almost as a prelude to the C minor sonata, K 457. Its inherent drama and vigorous runs serve the heightened, manic-driven approach to Mozart very well. Indeed I can hardly imagine Beethoven playing any more apropos than this. But when one listens to something like the 10th and 12th sonatas (K 330 and 332, in C and F), one feels like Pieneaar’s readings are, well, lacking poetry. And Mozart, no matter how he is played, must have poetry or all is lost.
I have heard Pienaar in other works and appreciate his talent. And there is certainly room for Mozart as seen in the light of subsequent compositional and pianist developments—he cannot be faulted for that effort, in fact, I applaud him for it. But for me listening to the complete canon in this enervating and crackling tension is just not convincing over the long haul. Some more subtlety, like that found with Uchida, or the structural beauties that Brendel unearths, or even the pure poetic inclinations of the recent Bezuidenhout recordings even though on a fortepiano, would surely leaven these rather unrelentingly high pressure recordings.
— Steven Ritter