Giorgio Koukl | 22 AUG 2022
In this newest installation from Canary Classics, pianist Orli Shaham continues her journey through all the Mozart piano sonatas.
Indeed, this is a difficult task, as practically everybody has tried to do the same in the past, so she has to enter into the dangerous ring fulfilled by names like Dinu Lipatti, Alfred Brendel, Vladimir Ashkenazy, or Vladimir Horowitz.
Most of the long booklet text, in the form of an interview with Andrew Steward, tries to explain to the potential buyer or listener why this version should be different from the many already existing versions from pianists of practically every continent, age, or provenience.
If there is a choice between two diametrically opposed ways to approach Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s scores, maybe that of Dinu Lipatti, with his soft and very moody touch, versus the muscular, quasi-mechanical, and unsentimental way chosen by Alfred Brendel, should be considered as maximum opposite versions.
Transcending the logically very different technical means used in more than a half-century of recording Mozart (and filtering out all the meanwhile abandoned ways of using fortepiano, historical instruments, and even “guaranteed” instruments used by Mozart himself), it remains possible to draw a theoretical array of approaches to the piano sonatas.
That said, let’s see where Ms. Shaham could be placed.
The first step, in this case, is a detailed analysis of the booklet and the purposes as explained by the pianist. She mentions the well-known method of flourishing the “skeleton” of the written score, which was intended as a general instruction to the interpreter, by which every keyboard player should reinvent the piece, ready never to play the same notes. While widely used in French baroque music, this technique was already on the decline during Mozart’s times.
The idea is fascinating and, in good hands, would undoubtedly bring significant enrichment to the somehow oldish way of interpretation as we know it now. Let’s only think about the manner of playing Vivaldi 50 years ago and the enormous revolution brought to this field by groups like Il giardino armonico or many others.
Despite the great capacity of Ms. Shaham to develop well-singing phrases, her natural musicianship, and her great engagement with a personal view of Mozart, there simply is not enough here to really speak about a new way of playing Mozart sonatas. The choice of playing each repetition in every sonata is bold. But this would mean that every time at least some changes are made, and changing a few acciacaturas or offering a different trill is simply not enough.
Orli Shaham ventures into repertoire so well known to the general public, like the “Turkish March” from the Piano Sonata in A major No. 11 K.331, that one has to admire her courage.
She sounds fresh and fully engaged every time. She also enjoys the luxury only a few CD productions can offer: working throughout many recording sessions for a company that is not a major label, but the property of her brother, violinist Gil Shaham, is probably financially far less stressful.
The world of independent CD companies can observe the latest development of small, family-owned companies, which, in the future, will probably keep the horizon of new productions refreshingly full of new and astonishing publications. Something that the quasi-defunct old system of a few major companies can no longer fulfill. Despite the evident lack of world distribution, a privilege guaranteed only to a few companies today, this is probably not the most necessary argument for artists to work with a particular company or other.
Well, let’s try to make an overall evaluation of this installment.
Ms. Shaham launches this project of all Mozart piano sonatas as a personal contribution to the possible readings of this music. As said at the beginning, the competition is more than enormous. Anyway, the good technical quality, paired with the use of a good piano, gives her the means to express everything she wants.
She definitely has something to say in this field. ■
- Orli Shaham: orlishaham.com