I was generally very pleased with Luisa Guembes-Buchanan’s previous album, titledBeethoven in D, thus I was looking forward to hearing her play these Mozart sonatas. I was not disappointed. Although she plays these works on a modern piano rather than a period instrument, as in Ronald Brautigam’s superb set on BIS, Guembes-Buchanan has the full measure of Mozart’s style. She presents the music as alternately charming, impulsive, singing, and dramatic. Allow me to quote the artist from the booklet: “One of the difficulties that a performer encounters when interpreting Mozart lies in the challenge to express the composer’s most important contribution to music, that is, a balance between the operatic, dramatic elements and the skillful manipulation of musical forms….Many consider these sonatas to be works that Mozart composed primarily to instruct his pupils. I believe this judgment to be unfair … the sonatas … represent a laboratory, so to speak, where we can observe Mozart refining his compositional style and, at the same time, exploiting the qualities of the piano.”
This is, then, a different approach to the Mozart sonatas than you may be familiar with. In fact, I found her approach to Mozart not very far removed from that of another woman pianist, the late Nadia Reisenberg, whose 1939–40 cycle of the complete piano concertos has much the same quality in the solo work: playfulness mixed with drama, a singing quality tempered by rhythmic bite. She also employs rubato not by slowing down occasionally, only to make up for it by accelerating a passage later on, but by using impulsive accelerandos, not always in the most obvious passages, to give the music a feeling of edginess. This gives her playing urgency, almost of impulsivity, that I can’t recall having heard in anyone else’s Mozart, not even Reisenberg’s. Since I know from independent reading that Mozart was a huge fan of C. P. E. Bach and a personal friend of his younger brother J. C. Bach, I can well imagine that—despite the lighter sound of early keyboards—the composer might well have played his music in this manner. One of the more interesting results of her inflections is that one hears the harmonic changes more clearly, because she gives a very slight emphasis to the notes leading up to them.
Her performance of the K 333 Sonata is perhaps the most lyrical and least dramatically inflected, but this is merely in terms of the number of inflections, not a total lack of same. I was also much taken by her performance of the Fantasy in C Minor, which she invests with a playful lilt and singing quality. She almost uses it as a long introduction to the sonata in the same key, which makes musical sense.
I can only hope that this is the first installment in a complete recording of the Mozart sonatas by Guembes-Buchanan. I was completely convinced by her approach, and want to hear all the sonatas played this way. – Lynn René Bayley
This article originally appeared in Issue 38:3 (Jan/Feb 2015) of Fanfare Magazine.
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