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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
The Complete Works for Piano, Vol. 2
Piano Sonatas: in D major K.284, in C major K.309, in A minor K.310
Joyce Hatto (piano)
Recorded February 23rd 1995 in the Concert Artist Studios, Cambridge

The second issue in Joyce Hatto’s Mozart sonata cycle completes (with K.284) the group of early sonatas and therefore couples one of the least played with one of the most celebrated – that in A minor.

Our bad habit of using Mozart sonatas as "warming-up" pieces in recitals has caused pianists to shy away from K.284 which concludes with an expansive series of variations. In the present performance this movement alone lasts 17:06 minutes, and even the brisker Alicia de Larrocha takes 14:59. Furthermore, this sonata contains, in its Rondeau en Polonaise, that rarity: a Mozart movement which is relatively unconvincing. True, we must not expect a Mozart Polonaise to sound like a Chopin one, but even when we have cleared the mental decks, this piece often sounds unduly static. The first movement of the sonata, on the other hand, is satisfyingly concise and fiery.

Both de Larrocha and Hatto are magnificent in this first movement, de Larrocha somewhat more decoratively rococo, Hatto adding a touch of orchestral grandeur. In the Rondeau en Polonaise I think de Larrocha is more successful – she seems more in contact with the underlying dance rhythm and so better avoids the risk of sounding static. In the variations, though, I find Hatto’s more expansive approach more loving and thus masking the longeurs by its sheer beauty.

In the C major sonata, grandly and sensitively delivered by both artists, I have a few queries over detail. After the opening 2-bar flourish, the two crotchets (fourth-notes) which open the ensuing lyrical theme are not marked either staccato or legato. Why, then, do both pianists make them so very short rather than let the note sing for virtually its written value? Granted the approach, Hatto has a fetching elegance beside which de Larrocha seems a shade brittle. Then, in the next bar, the first crotchet is preceded by an appoggiatura which is normally resolved as two equal quavers (eighth-notes), and so de Larrocha plays it. Hatto makes the first note very short indeed, as if it were an acciaccatura. Is there some discrepancy in the MS sources or between editions (I am using a Peters Edition edited by Martienssen which claims to be Urtext, but it is evident at many points that both de Larrocha and Hatto have a very different edition)? Still, these will be small details for most listeners. Honours are about even in the second movement. Hatto’s last movement sets off at a beautifully spacious and unhurried tempo, truly Allegretto without a trace of Allegro, and undoubtedly grazioso. Except that, as it goes on, one begins to wonder, as one does sometimes with symphony movements conducted by Klemperer which seem perfect at the outset, if a finale ought not to "go" (as Tovey put it) just a little more, rather than seem a gentle epilogue. It’s all very admirable but I think Hatto must be one of those people who actually enjoy driving within the speed limits and continue unperturbedly, unruffledly, as people whiz past them, buzz them, flash headlights at them, hoot at them and subject them to foul gestures. In a way I feel ashamed of my own impatience, yet if only she had done all the same things, but done them a tad faster … At which point, enter Alicia de Larrocha.

The first movement of the A minor also put me in mind of Klemperer, this time in the G minor symphony. For some listeners, his patient opening tempo makes the string quavers merely chug, and maybe for those same listeners the repeated quavers here will also seem to "chug". But this is marked Allegro maestoso and for myself I had concluded long before hearing Joyce Hatto’s recording that the music should unfold at just such a leisurely tempo, without trying to find a proto-Beethovenian drive in it.

A beautifully sung second movement is followed by a finale which shows that, when Mozart’s marking actually is Presto, Hatto, without losing her Olympian calm, responds with a genuinely fast tempo. The performance of this sonata will repay the closest attention.

If I have had a few queries (rather than outright criticisms), I hope I have made it clear that this well-recorded issue is part of a Mozart cycle which belongs among the finest, and I hope it will get the acknowledgement it deserves.

Christopher Howell

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Complete listing of Concert Artist recordings

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