Pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin (b. 1961), having explored a series of Haydn sonatas for Hyperion, turns his deft attentions (rec. 5-9 July 2013) to selected sonatas by Mozart. The glistening sound of the Steinway instrument—courtesy of recording engineer Simon Eadon—caters to Hamelin’s strong suit, his pointed, vivacious clarity in all parts. The range of the works themselves provides us a good sense of the Mozart stylistic evolution from a J.C. Bach acolyte into a purveyor of the galant and the pre-Romantic, grand expressiveness. Nowhere does Hamelin permit a gilded, “rococo” sensibility to detract from the vocalism of the Mozart lyricism or the virile character of his outer movements.
A strong example of Mozart’s athletically delicate fusion of affects, the G Major, K283 (1775), beautifully captures what Mozart added to the fluent cantabile line of the Andante over a standard Alberti bass. The C Major/A Minor shifts and counterpoints never call attention to anything besides the color dynamic of the music’s expressivity. The splendidly spirited Presto finale in 3/8 moves to a development that the composer himself called “difficult.” The companion piece, the E-flat Major Sonata, K282—long a favorite of Clara Haskil—opens with an expressive Adagio in the style of the Bach sons. Hamelin provides a broad expansiveness to its elusively lyrical treatment of the opening flourish. A slightly irreverent Menuetto follows, irregular in metrics, and containing a haughty middle section, quite assertive. Mozart asks Hamelin to execute several series of paired notes in the contredanse finale, Allegro, so the effect becomes gently but briskly polyphonic.
The F Major Sonata, K332 (1778) revealed its fine balance of lyric and bravura elements via the classic inscription by Vladimir Horowitz. Hamelin chooses a refined, understated approach, but no less gripping and sonically appealing—the “symphonic” sound of the transition into D Minor—in those alternately legato and fierce staccato passages of the opening Allegro. The Adagio in B-flat Major never ceases to cast an ornamental, mystical aura entirely its own. The final Allegro assai presents a toccata by anyone’s standards, since the 6/8 tempo gallops and sighs in splendid mix. The excursion into C Minor definitely foreshadows the Beethoven temperament. The return of the cantabile theme at the quiet coda offers just another case of the Mozart balanced alchemy.
Certainly in the vein of a toccata con brio, the Allegro of the Sonata in B-flat Major, K570 (1798) has Hamelin’s fleet fingers in perpetual motion. The passing counterpoints remain as graceful as they are indicative of a “chamber music” texture. Hamelin moves the counter theme in lovely colors from the bass through its eventual modulation to D-flat Major. The expressive Adagio has a liturgical character, set in E-flat Major that could have served a Masonic ritual. The analogous feeling in the Larghetto of the C Minor Concerto, K491 finds frequent commentary. Hamelin intends to remind us that the playful figures of the concluding Allegretto allude to contrapuntal elements in The Magic Flute. A light hand from Hamelin only increases our delight in Mozart’s witty inventions that could have colored an outdoor band concert.
Hamelin adds two brief works to Disc One, the 1786 Rondo in D, K485, a truncated sonata movement built on a lone theme and its Alberti permutations. Quite the debonair touch-piece, the work found favor with Myra Hess, and Hamelin, too, clearly enjoys its playful, alla musette tribute to the Bach sons’ school of expressivity. The inventive little Gigue in G Major (1789), another Myra Hess staple, engages in three-part polyphony and daring chromatic progressions, all in the space of one and one-half minute. Tchaikovsky orchestrated it, and why not, given its compression of bold colors?
Both the C Major Sonata, K330 and the B-flat Major, K333 share an optimistic elan, each borrowing from J.C. Bach his galant sensibility now embellished with Mozart’s elegant sense of décor. The B-flat Major’s opening movement reveals more inner turbulence, with a chromatic move into f minor. In the finales of each sonata, respectively, we sense a “concerto” sonority in the textural contrasts between solo writing and thicker, “tutti” harmonizations. The K330, too, possesses an f minor episode in the Andante that reveals a chromatic world of personal anguish. Hamelin renders these Vienna productions both with patient deliberation and resounding, carefree abandon, as required. The utterly music-box experience of the 1788 Sonata in C, K545 still manages to surprise, with its first movement recapitulation in F Major. Hamelin’s innate energy and deft articulation prevents the music from devolving into a pedantic exercise piece. By his playing the Andante a bit more briskly than usual, the music by Hamelin achieves a plastic sheen rife with melancholy beauty, especially in its brief g minor episode. The finale, a Rondo en forme de gavotte, projects a healthy exuberant confidence.
Mozart’s fertile, tragic affect reigns in the two concluding works, the pre-Chopin masterwork Rondo in A Minor, K511 (1787) and the improvisatory response to C.P.E. Bach, the Fantasia in D Minor, K397. A combination of cadenza figures and operatic ariosi mark its dark progress. One of the few Mozart solo pieces Artur Rubinstein engaged, the Rondo laments in a series of appoggiaturas and drooping, chromatic figures that later become contrapuntal. Hamelin supplies his own ending for the ten bars Mozart left incomplete for the K397.