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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Sonata No. 10 in C major K330 (?1782-83) [25:06]
Piano Sonata No. 11 in A Major K331 (?1782-83) [24:28]
Piano Sonata No. 12 in F major K332 (?1782-83) [25:17]
Noriko Ogawa (piano)
rec. August/September 2011, Potton Hall, Saxmundham, Suffolk, England
BIS BIS-SACD-1985 [76:00]

Noriko Ogawa has become one of the names to be reckoned with in today’s piano world, and her Debussy and other recordings for BIS, reviewed on this site, have received universal acclaim. This Mozart programme presents three of the composer’s most popular sonatas which, though some scholars indicate dates in the late 1770, were also possibly written as the composer was finding his feet as a freelance subsequent to his leaving the service of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg in 1780. This might have been a low point in his career, but the consequences left us with a flurry of superb new work which forming Mozart’s professional portfolio as an independent artist.
Mozart is one of, if not the hardest of composers to get just ‘right’ in terms of performance, but Ogawa does us and herself proud in this recording. My reference for Mozart’s piano sonatas has for many years been that of Mitsuko Uchida, and her complete set, reviewed here, is worth every penny of its dwindling asking price. By comparison, Ogawa’s tone is a little firmer and a little less intimate than Uchida’s, but this is not to the detriment of the music. Taking a few favourite movements, the colour and melodic expression of the Andante cantabile of K330 is delicious. With a timing almost equal to Uchida’s, Ogawa’s view of the music is taken in longer spans, the musical motivations of cause and effect, call and response, are viewed from a greater distance, where Uchida’s seem to emerge almost bar for bar, even note for note. This creates a different sense of narrative, and I would be hard pressed to say which I prefer in the long run. If you enjoy Mozart the opera composer, then Ogawa’s reading is closer to those wonderful arias than Uchida, who takes more of a chamber-music view of ultra-detailed dynamics and articulation.
Ogawa is well tuned to Mozart’s sense of fun, and the uplifting final Allegretto of K330 is a good example of the composer’s breathtaking and seemingly casual buffoonery. Uchida’s articulation in this movement is pretty breathtaking in its own right, but it is Ogawa who raises a smile.
Central to these sonatas and maintaining a concentration on favourites, the opening of the Theme and Variations, the first movement of K331,is one of the simplest and best loved two minutes of music ever written. Ogawa gives us this theme with understated expression and absolute clarity, keeping rubato in proportions, but with a suggestion of things-to-come in her dynamic peaks. She is indeed more dramatic than Uchida, pushing the sonority of her instrument just that bit more into the 21st century, where Uchida creates her world more from within a ‘period-esque’ restraint of touch with the piano. This is not to say Uchida doesn’t use the full range of dynamic resource at her disposal, but her baseline dynamic is that much softer than Ogawa. This may in part be a side-effect of the recorded perspective, with the BIS recording placing more of a concert-hall distance between us and the player, the Philips recording putting us quite a bit closer, almost within toothpaste range of the musician.
Comparisons will keep us occupied for days if we let them, and those of you who enjoy Maria João Pires, Daniel Barenboim, not to forget Daniel-Ben Pienaar or Ronald Brautigam’s fortepiano set will have your own ideas and preferences. All I can say is, Noriko Ogawa’s playing brings us Mozart of the highest calibre. The rattling janissary legions are conjured with terrific verve in the famous Alla Turca of K331, and the eternally fascinating light and dark contrasts of K332 are performed with absolute and stirring conviction in this recording. This by the way delivers an excellent piano sound, pellucid in its imaging and ideal in its use of the Potton Hall acoustic, but still unashamedly firm in the bass and with plenty of light and sparkle in the upper registers.
Dominy Clements