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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Sonata No. 2 in F major, K280 (1774) [15:39]
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B flat major, K281 (1774) [14:55]
Piano Sonata No. 8 in A minor, K310 (1778) [21:16]
Piano Sonata No. 13 in B flat major, K333 (pub 1784) [21:22]
Lars Vogt (piano)
rec. 2016/19, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Köln, Germany
ONDINE ODE1318-2 [73:53]

As a modus operandi I found it an illuminating strategy to listen to this disc two-by-two; pairs of early Mozart sonatas whose durations may be similar but whose mercurial moods shift and contrast enticingly. Vogt has conceived an elegant programme of sonatas that aptly complement one another. I suspect it would work well as a live recital. If nothing else it impresses by dint of showcasing the composer’s ability to present an extraordinary range of colour and expression within the confines of one arguably restricting genre. However Vogt’s contribution is considerable; he offers deeply-felt yet precise playing and a profound appreciation of Mozart’s narrative structure. His approach amply repays any listener who wishes to revisit this familiar repertoire. Ondine’s recording is first class too; unfussy and bright, with a beautifully ripe bass.

Both the early F major and B flat sonatas are products of Mozart’s teens; each is miraculous in its concision and emotional breadth. At once in the Allegro assai of K 280 he presents a dizzying helter-skelter of complementary ideas. The freshness of Vogt’s playing amplifies the music’s deceptive simplicity while the conversational nature of the music emerges naturally and delightfully. The central Adagio is morose rather than crushingly tragic. Still, Vogt has empathy with this teenage angst and extends pauses daringly, as if presenting an opportunity for sober reflection. This is nuanced, delicately coloured playing. It contrasts tellingly with the fluent and crisp production of the effervescent Presto finale.

Vogt invests the initial gesture of K 281’s opening Allegro with baroque, recitative-like grace before embarking on the meat of the movement. Both music and playing are shot through with freedom and spontaneity. In his conversation with the music journalist Friederike Westerhaus which features in Ondine’s booklet, the pianist refers to Mozart’s thematic material as a ‘non-theme’. In doing so, he magnifies the composer’s genius even as a teenager in his uncanny ability at making a little go a long way. If the amoroso marking at the head of the slow movement is mildly exaggerated along the way it certainly doesn’t impede Vogt’s tender, thoughtful playing. The delicious Rondo finale crackles along with puckish charm, its faux-clumsy ending most amusingly done. These two similarly proportioned teenage works may well be siblings but their emotional and stylistic contrasts far outweigh any superficial similarities.

By 1778 the composer was on paper at least a grown-up, and the authentic sense of tragedy and catastrophe that hangs over the A minor Sonata K 310 epitomises the composer’s acknowledgement, if not his unqualified acceptance of the slings and arrows of the adult world. In the booklet conversation, Vogt describes the work in almost schizophrenic terms, and this essence is captured in its sound here; it’s present in the anxiety of the gesture at the very opening of the Allegro maestoso, and again in the almost purposeless optimism of the music which follows. The second half of the movement is underpinned by a frenetic, troubled quality that could well have been triggered by some psychopathological stimulus (the recent passing of his mother is mentioned in the booklet), yet Vogt’s playing of this material remains poised and elegant. K 310’s more ample proportions elicit more expansive playing from the German, who by now draws an abundance of colour from his excellent modern instrument. The slow movement is especially pensive – the staccati that dominate from 1:10 reinforce the sense of insoluble agitation; Vogt describes this as a “restless” state. When this passage is repeated it suddenly seems more hushed, less impulsive, even tragic. As a measure of the sound of the instrument (and Ondine’s exceptional recording), Vogt’s bass trilling later in the movement is quite mesmerising. The inescapable spiral of the Presto finale is thrillingly caught – Vogt captures its manic qualities fearlessly. At the same time inner details emerge that often elude the listener in this brief panel. This is a detailed, absorbing account.

Vogt’s conducting skills serve him well in K333, also in B flat. In the booklet he identifies the parallels with Mozart’s last Piano Concerto K 595 which adopts the same key. The contrasts between solo and tutti passages are obvious from the outset of the sonata. Following the score in this work, markings appear to be scrupulously observed, and yet Vogt still manages to pull off the neat trick of seemingly rendering familiar music in novel yet convincing terms. In the bizarre Andante cantabile Vogt conveys the chasteness of the first subject so sweetly that when the famed dissonances arrive their tartness truly makes one’s eyes water. The finale’s breezy nonchalance is maintained right up to the magnificent cadenza and beyond. It’s a scintillating account and caps a fine Mozart recital which at times borders on the revelatory.

Richard Hanlon

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