Mozart: Sonatas for Piano Numbers: 8, 11, 16, and 17. Performed by Daniel Baremboim (EMI classics)
Mozart kept a so-called “Thematic Catalog” in which he entered the first 2-6 bars of each of his compositions. I own a facsimile copy of this catalog. One can see an entry that he made on 26 June, 1788 which reads: “Eine kleine Kalvier Sonate fuer anfaenger” (A small piano sonata for beginners). On the facing page, he entered the first 2 bars of the first movement of this piece. Every student of the instrument, has at one point of his/her student days worked on this composition. This Sonata is sometimes called Sonata facile or Sonata Semplice (meaning that it is technically less challenging)…
Barenboim placed this sonata as the first 3 tracks of this CD. It is beautifully played. He keeps the performance simple, as it should be as a sonata for a beginner. It would be out of character to add a lot of stylistic liberties that a young player is not likely to have mastered.
Next on this wonderful CD is the Sonata number 8, K, 310. This is one of only two piano sonatas by Mozart which is composed in a minor key. It was composed in 1778, the year in which Mozart was playing concerts in Paris, and his mother died there on July 3rd, after a short illness. Biographers wrote that a Doctor was only called when the mother became severely ill, because Mozart’s finances were always in crisis…
Tracks 7-9 are reserved for the Sonata #11, K331. Mozart scholars believe that this work dates from 1783. It features a wonderful theme, followed by 6 variations. The last movement shows the influence of Turkish music which was the rage in Vienna at the time. As such, Mozart titled the last movement “Alla Turca”.
The last 3 tracks of this CD feature the Barenmboim performance of the Sonata #17, K576. Let’s return to the Mozart Thematic Catalog, mentioned above. We can see an entry made for July, 1789 that reads: “Eine Sonate auf Klavier allein” (A sonata for Piano alone). A wonderful composition, from late in Mozart’s short life. He died on December 5th, 1791 a the age of 35.
Bottom – line view of this CD:
These four sonatas are so-called “War-Horses”: They are among the most frequently performed compositions of the great Master. As such, the represent a huge challenge for the performer: How do you keep this music fresh? How do you show the listener some new insight? How do you perform these works with the charm, lightness, humor, and simplicity that is required? Yet… how do you show the sadness, pathos, and tragedy that are there, as well?
Barenboim’s interpretations are – for me – satisfying, yet not moving. The basics are there, but not the freshness, insight, and spirituality that are so often a hallmark of Mozart’s masterpieces.
Suggestion: Explore what Mitsuko Uchida does with these works.