Mozart’s piano sonata in A K.331 begins with a nursery rhyme-type theme which even those immune to classical music might recognise. On it is based an elaborate set of variations that only a mind of Mozart’s creative ingenuity could sustain. The challenge facing the interpreter is to carry the music through these quasi-repetitious elaborations without letting it sound banal. It is a measure of Christian Blackshaw’s complete identification with this strand of Mozart’s genius that these Andante grazioso variations – like so much else in Blackshaw’s recital, the last of his widely toured Mozart sonata cycle – had an intensity and concentration that generated unstoppable momentum.
Inherited wisdom tells us that Mozart’s 18 sonatas are either the product of an infant prodigy’s improvisatory whirls or a set of pedagogical exercises inhibited by classical form. More than half a century ago the great Lili Kraus told us otherwise. Now, in an equally sui generis bolt from the blue, Blackshaw has done something similar.
While not exactly turning Mozart into a Sturm und Drang composer, he showed in Saturday’s recital that the sonatas’ intricately worked-out forms and deceptively simple melodies are suffused with temperament and feeling. On that score alone, this series represents a landmark in London’s appreciation of this music.
The evening began with Sonata No. 7 in C K.309, the outer movements of which Blackshaw took at a fair lick, ratcheting up the drama while paying due honour to Mozart’s extrovert flourishes and finely sculpted touches. Then, in the superficially facile Andante, he found unexpected depths and moods. After K.331’s opening variations came a surprisingly fibrous Minuet and a finale that drove home the brazen boldness of Mozart’s Turkish effects.
The second half brought two late sonatas. Blackshaw took in hand the elaborate arguments of K.533 in F with fatherly patience, making even the intricate figurations of the finale seem charged with light. If the opening movement of the very last sonata, K.576, sounded a little too fast and furious, the Adagio made amends: Blackshaw imbued its melancholic strain with tragic grandeur, and the closing Allegretto had both wit and wisdom – a rapturous ending to a momentous journey.