Sonatas K. 570, 282, 333
GEOFFREY LANCASTER: fortepiano
$23 (Australian dollars)
|Geoffrey Lancaster is back with another disc of Mozart Sonatas. His first for Tall Poppies (TP247) delighted the critics: ďPurists have condemned these performances, but I salute a shibboleth-shattering performer and a brave recording company for sweeping away 250 years of straitlaced stylistic purity and pomposity. I will never be able to listen to these familiar pieces in quite the same way again.Ē Vincent Plush, The Australian, January 2018; and Andrew Ford opines: ďThe point is that this CD demands to be heard and will force you to think about Mozart and his music. Lancaster, I imagine, would say that this is the only reason he performs.Ē Inside Story, December 2017.|
Including a unique Prelude for each sonata, Lancaster plays these three works with virtuosity, humour, clarity and sincerity. You might think this an odd way to describe a performance, but Lancaster embodies all these qualities and proves his outstanding musicianship along the way, and is thus out on a limb in Australian music-making. Youíve just got to have a listen!
The disc is rounded off with a deliciously colourful cover image from Melbourne artist Dean Home.
|Mozart||Prelude in B-flat major|
Sonata in B-flat major K. 570
Prelude in E-flat major
Sonata in E-flat major K. 282
Prelude in B-flat major
Sonata in B-flat major K. 333
|I last reviewed Geoffrey Lancaster in the January edition of Loudmouth, there playing three other Mozart sonatas ó the group the composer published with Artaria in 1784 (KV 330-332), including the well-known Alla turca sonata. This new CD brings together three temporally separated sonatas, the B flat major sonata of 1789, the E flat major sonata of 1774 and the B flat major sonata of 1783.|
Much of what I wrote in that January review is applicable here. I remain unconvinced by the inclusion of brief (one of them lasting less than half a minute) preludes to each of the sonatas. Inventive enough on their own terms, they are musically pretty slight and I donít think their purpose of testing the acoustic, the tuning, or the instrument can really be said to be fulfilled in a recording. To some extent, they do fulfil the purpose of somehow giving an indication of the kind of reading Lancaster is going to give of the succeeding work. Iím quite sure that Lancaster would agree that these improvised works are highly contextual and would and must change depending on the room, instrument, and the mood of the performer towards the Ďmainí work. Recording them seems such an invidious task I wonder why Lancaster bothered at all. I wonít go so far as to say they are superfluous to the manner in which Lancaster argues the sonatas, but given their dependent nature, recording them does seem superfluous.
Lancaster is on firmer group in the sonatas themselves. In January, I was struck by his playing of the slow movements, and it is those movements again that draw the listenerís attention on the current disc ó the middle movements of K 570 and K 333 and the quite extended first movement of K 282. Lancaster achieves the right amount of breadth in all of these movements, giving them a kind of poignant eternity that seems utterly true to Mozartís intentions. Particularly telling is his control of tone colour in these slow movements, from a glistening treble to a throaty middle register and warm, bell-like bass; his expression of musical ideas is also perfectly served by his masterly control of the various gradations in touch ó in these slow movements, particularly by a seamless legato. As I remarked in January, one mark of Lancasterís genius in the interpretation of Mozart is in his ability to conjure up the sense that he is standing in Mozartís place, making up the music as he goes along. That remains powerfully true especially in the slow movements of the current disc.
Lancasterís faster movements are occasionally marked by a brittle, percussive, almost shrill kind of touch that is largely absent in the slow movements. Lancaster uses this touch to good effect particularly in the first movement of B flat sonata K 570, which has sudden, dramatic transitions that profit from it; in other places it seems less apt.
Everything comes together particularly in the masterly B flat major sonata K 333, which calls for the full array of Lancasterís pianism ó the humour and operatic drama of the sudden changes of direction in the last movement; the frequent opportunities for shapely melodic playing in the first movement; the constant sense that the sonata is veering away from its humble confines towards the breadth of a concerto; the soulfulness and wistfulness of the broadly-conceived middle movement. While Lancasterís playing is every bit as fine in the other B flat major sonata on this disc (K 570), he often comes close to playing too quickly in that sonataís fast movements for the music to tolerate.
This disc marks another milestone in Lancasterís exploration of the Mozart sonatas. There are such riches awaiting him yet ó the final sonata, for example, and keyboard works like the B minor adagio that I hope might attract his interest. I canít wait for whatever comes next.
Loudmouth April 2019
As I listened to fortepianist Geoffrey Lancasterís recently released compact disc recording devoted to three of Mozartís keyboard sonatas, I wondered how some of my colleagues would respond to his approach to these works. For those for whom a strict, unwavering beat (apart from a rit at the end of this or that section of the work) is a non-negotiable requirement, Lancasterís recordings could well trigger apoplectic responses from those unable Ė or unwilling Ė to accept that these sonatas are presented in a way that was standard practice during the composerís lifetime and for a long time afterwards.
As a young grand-pupil of Lili Kraus, I accepted without question that, in Mozart or Haydn, a steady beat, with hands strictly co-ordinated, was de rigueur throughout. This is ever present in the Mozart recordings of, say, Walter Gieseking whose performances were Ė and still are for millions of listeners Ė considered the last word in the way to play the works of the Salzburg master. Iíd like to think, though, that even this very great artist, after careful consideration, might have conceded Ė at least in part Ė the validity of Lancasterís revivifying approach to Mozart.
I hope these recordings receive a very wide listenership. They deserve it. In his retrieval of near-forgotten historic performing modes, Lancasterís offerings warrant the highest praise and the widest listenership. This compact disc is a compendium of marvels. Even the least important succession of notes is treated with utmost care and, always, infused with beauty of tone and expression.
These performances are a joy from first note to last. I look forward very much to Lancasterís recordings of more of Mozartís sonatas Ė each one prefaced by what comes across as if it were an on-the-spot extemporisation by the soloist, a procedure that was standard practice at the time Mozartís sonatas were being written.
As ever, Lancasterís liner notes are a joy to read. They ought to be required reading by anyone preparing a Mozart piano work for performance.
I am certain that I am not the only listener looking forward with great anticipation to Lancasterís next recording of the keyboard sonatas of Mozart.
© Neville Cohn
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