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More Mozart from Orli Shaham!

Mozart: Piano Sonatas, volumes 2 & 3 Orli Shaham, piano Canary Classics 21 Disc One: Total Time: 61:11 Disc Two: Total Time: 69:34 Recording: ****/**** Performance: ****/****

In 2020, Canary Records released the first volum of what is apparently going to be a complete survey of Mozart piano sonatas by pianist Orli Shaham. The recordings were made in the historic Mechanics Hall in Worcester, MA, in August of 2019, and in September 2020. Shaham is proving to be the latest Mozartean with an equally fine release of two Mozart concertos with the St. Louis Symphony as well to her credit. Impeccable grace in her approach leads to the revealing of the music’s subtle aspects which were already on display in her first volume that featured the three Bb Major (Nos. 3, 13, and 17) sonatas. Volumes 2 and 3 are now packaged together in a larger digipack release.

Elegance is a key element in the ninth sonata, K. 310 (1778). The minor key is perhaps the most striking part of this work which has a rather moody central movement. Interesting harmonic shifts there are part of the appeal against some touchingly-beautiful thematic writing. Shaham’s performance here reaches the sublime at times as it transports the listener. A bit more of that blend of Sturm und Drang with the style gallant of the era comes across in K. 332 (the twelfth sonata and a personal favorite—the 11th closes off the other disc here). Possibly written while Mozart was in Salzburg in 1783 (or a couple years earlier while he was in Munich and Vienna), the piece has an impressive sonata-allegro opening with a sort of soupcon of all that was in the air at the time. Shaham’s interpretation helps bring out these elements excellently. The development section is particularly fascinating as is the slow central “Adagio”. The finale allows for a great deal of virtuosic display. It is a truly engaging work of the period and Shaham’s decision to take repeats allows for a further appreciation of the form and allows the listener to catch these unique things as it plays. The first disc here closes with Mozart’s final sonata, K. 576 (1789). Considered one of the more demanding works Mozart wrote it is notable for its contrapuntal writing that can quite tangle up one’s fingers if not careful! Formally the work follows a standard pattern with a nice sonata-rondo to wrap things up. The piece features some intriguing harmonic writing that surfaces most in the central movement. The work’s occasional sobriquet of “The Hunt” or “The Trumpet Sonata” comes from its horn-like opening bars. The piece makes for a stunning conclusion to disc one.

Volume three places two early sonatas between later ones. The disc opens with K. 545, sometimes called the simple, or easy sonata. The key of C Major is of course the first “clue” to the supposed simplicity, but the opening sonata-allegro features a recapitulation on the subdominant which is rather unusual for the time. It also has one of the shortest final rondo movements of the sonatas running just under two minutes here. The piece is a fun transition from the previous disc’s concluding “most difficult” sonata to this seeming trifle. Shaham next tackles two early sonatas from around 1774, K. 282 (No. 4) and K. 283 (No. 5). These are fine little works with often compact formal structures. The former is notable for its central movement’s menuettos, a nice little experiment. The album closes with one of Mozart’s more popular sonatas, K. 331 (1783). There are some interesting experiments here as well starting with a set of theme and variations as an opening movement, moving on to a menuetto at the center before we are “assaulted” with the “Alla Turca” clashing cymbals of the final rondo. The movement is perhaps among the most recognizable pieces and was part of the many works that hinted at the danger confronting Europe from the Ottoman Empire. The piece is also interesting as each movement is either in A Major or Minor.

It goes without saying that if you discovered Shaham’s first volume in this series then you are likely to have already prepared to pick up this set as well. In these works, Shaham helps bring out the interesting experimental aspects of the music in the midst of some stunning technical displays. Her interpretations fall well into line with other Mozarteans and with the skill and nuance she brings to the music it lifts her performances to the top of a rather large pile of predecessors. The slower adagios and andantes are quite exquisite and she does a fine job delineating the formal aspects of this music. The pairings here allow for some of the more sublime moments of Mozart’s catalog to be set aside mere “trifles”. Shaham’s performances bring these elements out beautifully and is captured quite well in the sonic picture of the recording itself. Rather than a traditional booklet of general program notes, we are treated to an interview that helps get a sense of Shaham's musical approach to these works as well as the contexts she uses in her performance.

As an aside, the standard for these works for me has always been Walter Klien and Mitsuko Uchida. Shaham’s approach is an intriguing blend of the clarity of line with just the right emotional connection to help bring Mozart’s music to life. Assuming she has recorded all the sonatas, we must just wait to see if her traversal will be a complete set to have alongside these others. Chances are that it will certainly be among the top 10 surveys of these pieces. This is a cycle not to be missed by any Mozartean or lover of Classical Era music.

Some tracks from the set will begin rolling out mid-August with the rest to appear by the end of the month.


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