Oril Shaham – Complete Piano Sonatas, Vol. 4 – Canary Classics

by | Jun 29, 2023 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

MOZART: Complete Piano Sonatas, Vol. 4 = Piano Sonatas K. 280, K. 279, K. 284 – Orli Shaham, piano – Canary Classics CC-23 (6/2/23) (70:00) [Distr. by PIAS] ****:

Pianist Orli Shaham continues her survey of the Mozart piano sonatas with this installment, recorded 21 July 2019, 27 August 2019, and 3 September 2019 in Mechanics Hall, Worcester, MA.  A Steinway Artist, Ms. Shaham sports a lively tone that immediately projects the arpeggiated, forte chord of the F Major, K. 280 Allegro assai with athletic verve, followed by three, rounded thirds. The block chords over the Alberti bass sing with a largesse we assume proper for Mozart’s intended audience in 1774 Munich. Mozart mixes three themes together in his exposition and development, whose dramatic chromaticism – making its way to C Major – looks back to C.P.E. Bach and ahead to Beethoven. Shaham packs a liquid trill, lyrically and dynamically flexible. The soft coda prepares us for the rarity in Mozart, his one slow, piano sonata movement, Adagio, in a minor (F Minor) key. 

The heart of the piece, this pause-filled siciliano in F Minor, receives a music-box sonority from Shaham, a thoughtful, introspective moment akin to the slow movement from in the Concerto No. 23 in A, K. 488. The haunted echo effects and chromatic ornaments contribute to the mournful, even funereal, sensibility. The sturm und drang mood and intensity may well, once again, owe debts to C.P.E. Bach. The last movement Presto returns us to a jovial F Major in sonata form. A music-box sonority, invested with staccato figures and brisk runs, means to exhibit the performer’s virtuosity. Mozart’s light, witty demeanor here seems close to that of charmed Scarlatti.

Mozart’s 1774 Sonata in C Major, K. 279, the first of his 18 piano sonatas, might be perceived as an experiment for left hand fluency and articulation, given the range of effects called upon. Perhaps Mozart meant for his Munich audience to appreciate his formidable technique and mastery of harmonization in sonata form and in moments of improvisation. The opening Allegro begins with a turning flourish, into which an Alberti bass inserts itself. The secondary tune in G Major has the striking energy we know from Scarlatti. The music abounds in appoggiaturas and arpeggios, aggressive but light in tone The development’s sojourn into G Minor does not cast any shadow over the general elan of the moment. The jabbing motions seem to look forward, not backward, to a finesse the young Beethoven would imitate. Mozart’s fluid return to the tonic key in the recapitulation is a model of refined sonata strategy.

The Andante in F allows Mozart in his first major piano sonata to exhibit a fluent expressiveness. Punctuated figures play against Shaham’s easy legato, the music’s moving in sonata form to the original, home key of C. Some dark color in bass chords contrasts against the high tessitura of the middle section, with sudden dynamic shifts that well anticipate the Beethoven style. The chromatic hues of the music’s course take us as far as D Minor. As we approach the recapitulation, the sense of intimacy prevails, with a right hand parlando over the Alberti bass. Quick turns and melting arpeggios, colored by small dissonances, define a remarkably individual style in eighteen-year-old Mozart. Shaham’s left hand proves agile and deftly pungent for the final Allegro, 2/4. The contrast between high and low registers borrows from the Scarlatti or Haydn playbook, with suave runs and sudden jabs that contribute to the sonorously busy medley. What Mozart calls a coda, two strong chords, bring the adventure to an abrupt halt.

Portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeua Mozart

The expansively-wrought, so-called Dürnitz” Sonata in D, K. 284, marks the last of Mozart’s Munich efforts, composed for amateur bassoon and keyboard player, Baron von Dürnitz, who reneged on Mozart’s fee. The scale of writing has become large, here in late 1774, with an orchestral concept applied to the keyboard in conjunction with a bravura sense of improvisation, especially in the last movement Tema con variazione. Unison passages and tremolo effects in the first movement Allegro declaim a “symphonic” scale at work, a less private occasion and rather one more ceremonial. Mozart’s use of inversion in the melody line produces at moments an archaic, Baroque effect, one corresponding, when applied to contrasting dynamics, to solo and ripieno effects in a concerto grosso. Mozart proves no less generous in his chromatic succession of minor keys before he allows the recapitulation its return to the major mode. Shaham makes of all this a fluid, rather emotionally titanic journey, fraught with moments of personal convulsive emotion. 

The second movement introduces a courtly dance, Rondeau en Polonaise: Andante, in A Major, ¾. Delicate tracery defines the motion of the piece, interrupted by strong utterances in chords, then chime and broken-scale effects, rounded off in trills and turns. There are moments of colloquy between contrasting registers, and even the ornaments seem to compete for supremacy of utterance. This dance, such as it is, seems oddly individual, close to Bach’s wayward son, W.F. Bach. The last movement tests Shaham’s ability to sustain interest in a gavotte with 12 D Major variations in cut time, perhaps influenced by the example of Rameau. Only Variation 7 wanders into the parallel D Minor. Shaham periodically injects her own ornamentation – most particularly in Variation 11, Adagio cantabile – to augment Mozart’s florid sense of improvisation. There are moments of close imitation and brief fugato that bear comparison to J.S. Bach and Handel. A music-box sonority emerges as well, delicate and studied in manner. The final Variation 12, Allegro, opens with an appoggiatura that launches a fluid motion that concludes, sempre forte, with athletic dash. 

—Gary Lemco

Complete Piano Sonatas, Vol. 4

Piano Sonata in F Major, K. 280;
Piano Sonata in C Major, K. 279;
Piano Sonata in D Major, K. 284 “Dürnitz”

Orli Shaham, Piano

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