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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Sonatas: Sonata in F KV 533/494 (1788); Sonata in C KV 545 (1788); Sonata in Bb KV 570 (1789); Sonata in D KV 576 (1789)
Andreas Haefliger, piano
Recorded July 2002 at Reistadel-Neumarkt/Oberpfalz, Germany
AVIE AV0025 [68:55]



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These four sonatas were composed within a year or so of each other in 1788-9, and are Mozart’s last works in the genre. The odd one out is also the best-known; the C major Sonata K545 was deliberately written ‘for beginners’, and now belongs in that unfortunate category of piano ‘pop’ classics, along with the 1st movement of the ‘Moonlight’, ‘Für Elise" and so forth. The other three sonatas are very different fare: mature, complex works, which show, in particular, Mozart’s increasing obsession with contrapuntal intricacy. It’s a cunning compilation, for, while there is an obvious case for grouping these pieces together, the C major acts as ‘light relief’ from the comparative rigour of the others.

I enjoy Haefliger’s approach to this music enormously. The received notion (i.e. that perpetrated by bad historians and musical snobs!) is that Mozart’s piano sonatas are one of the least interesting parts of his output, and therefore not of much interest to ‘serious’ pianists. It’s a daft point of view, of course, but one which I have heard implicitly endorsed by many fine performers who ought to know better. Endorsed, that is, in the way a Mozart sonata is frequently positioned at the beginning of a recital as a sort of finger-warmer, and then is played and in an infuriatingly twee manner as if with kid-gloves! The tempi are usually too fast, as well!

None of that applies to Haefliger. He is clearly playing on a large modern grand (no doubt a Steinway, though Avie don’t tell us – I wish they would), and plays in a healthily unapologetic way, quite prepared to use a certain weight of tone at appropriate moments, though never overdoing it. K533, the first on the disc, is possibly the most interesting of the four. It is certainly the most quirky, with quite extraordinary tonal twists in the development sections of the first two movements. Haefliger remains clear-headed throughout these dizzying passages, and maintains wonderfully lucid polyphonic textures. Tempi are well judged; indeed, some listeners might find the apparent steadiness of the finale of K533 quite a shock; but it is clearly marked Allegretto, and the tempo allows Haefliger to avoid any sense of garbled rush in the quicker sections. At this tempo, the little ornamental flourishes that attach themselves to the main theme at each reappearance can be relished, as can the gentle wit.

The little C major sonata is played without a trace of condescension, and emerges a better piece for it, while Haefliger’s simple expressiveness in the lovely middle movement allows its innocence to be felt poignantly. This uncomplicated approach persists throughout the remaining sonatas, and is both refreshing and stimulating to listen to. Anyone who thinks this music is easy to play just because it doesn’t have thousands of notes in it has got the wrong end of the musical stick. Mozart requires great discipline and a securely grounded technique, precisely because its light, airy textures allow everything to be heard – there is no hiding place!

The recording is ideal – intimate, yet not so close as to emphasise mechanical sound in the instrument. Haefliger is sometimes quite noisy, with little intakes of breath, occasional grunts etc. But that doesn’t bother me at all, and hopefully it won’t you either. It’s nice to be reminded that there’s a real live musician inside the box!

Gwyn Parry-Jones



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