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Not since Lili Kraus more than half a century ago has a pianist tackled Mozart’s 18 piano sonatas with such insight, panache and dedication. Blackshaw’s recent four-concert cycle at Wigmore Hall was a landmark in what remains an under-appreciated corner of Mozart’s oeuvre, and it is heartening to find these first CDs re-invoking and re-creating the sense of discovery those performances engendered.
This is no dry exploration of classical form, least of all in the first two sonatas. The luminous tone Blackshaw draws from the keys is a wonder in itself, and such is the kaleidoscope of feeling he uncovers in the composer’s decorative forms – joy, sadness, contemplation, exhilaration – that one easily takes the pianist’s technique for granted, so unassumingly has he clothed it in his warm and deft musicianship. Already, in the andante middle movement of the first sonata, we hear Blackshaw adding the subtlest variations of tone and emphasis to the music’s repeated motifs, while the finale has laughter, wit, temperament – and fabulous fluency. To the adagio of the second sonata he brings a proto-Beethovenian blend of poise and depth, to the eighth’s con espressione reflections an unaffected elegance. The ninth and seventeenth sonatas profit no less from Blackshaw’s chaste exploration of the music’s expressive palette. What these performances convey above all is an intelligence that has lived long enough with Mozart’s solo piano music to illuminate it richly for 21st-century ears.
Piano Sonatas Volume 1
(Wigmore Hall, 2 CDs)