Can you ever have enough Mozart? In some circles his music equates to the Bible: everything is holy writ. For those outside the magic circle, there are times when Mozart, like the Bible, can be too much of a good thing.
Such was the case with Leon McCawley’s marathon traversal of all 20 Mozart piano sonatas at the weekend, performed in chronological order over four concerts – of which I heard the first. If McCawley had mixed and matched sonatas from different periods, we might have gained some insight into the composer’s developing genius. But when the first six sonatas are packaged together like this – all written in the same year, in the same place and in virtually the same style – there is only one word for it: boring.
This type of box-set programming has become the trademark of Kings Place. Some of its musical ideas are fertile but the presentation is shapeless – and McCawley, a musician with enough experience to know better, seems to have acquiesced. The very lack of contrast in the opening recital was its undoing. You can’t blame the 19-year-old Mozart: he was still feeling his way into sonata form.
McCawley was faithful, correct, even-tempered – the very model of a gentleman. You could argue that the music scarcely allowed him to be otherwise, but that’s not strictly true. Even in these exploratory essays, written when Mozart was in Munich for the premiere of La finta giardiniera, there is scope beneath the light, bright surface for temperament, impulsiveness, contrast of speed and phrasing. McCawley’s tempi tended toward the brisk: not a bad idea in theory, but inadvisable in an acoustic as generous as Hall One, which tended to muffle the opening allegros. How much more audacious it would have been to have essayed this recital on a fortepiano.
Where Mozart was at his best, so too was McCawley. The quasi-vocal poetry of the first sonata’s Andante, the dreamy slow variation of K284 – these brought relief from the overwhelmingly classical equilibrium. And in Mozart’s more boisterous moments, such as the finale of K281, McCawley’s artless fingerwork captured the music’s good humour.
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