Notes and Editorial Reviews
Complete Piano Sonatas
François Dumont (pn)
ANIMA 90400001 (5 CDs: 317:12)
What a way to start your recording career, with a complete set of the Mozart piano sonatas. Oh well, if I remember correctly, Claude Frank’s first recording was the complete set of Beethoven’s piano sonatas for RCA Victrola in 1971! (And no, I couldn’t find any information online to contradict this.)
For many of us, the obvious comparison will be with Ronald Brautigam, whose set of
the complete Mozart sonatas (played on a very fine fortepiano) came out on BIS in 2000. Comparing the two sets, I found many similarities. Although Dumont—who, by the way, was only 24 years old when he recorded these sonatas in 2008—plays a 1966 model Steinway, he uses a light touch and not much pedal, which creates a similarly light, bright tone. He is equally sensitive in the slow movements, but in the more rapid outer movements of each sonata Dumont holds the edge, as his playing simply has greater animation and a much more varied use of dynamics. At times he even reduces the volume (possibly via touch rather than pedal) within a single bar or phrase, and his taste is unerring. He knows exactly how to make this music “speak,” and at certain moments (not many, but quite telling when they occur) he slightly emphasizes certain notes in the bass accompaniment in order to bring it into equal prominence with what the right hand is playing. This creates an interesting, almost orchestral effect, which if you pore over the liner notes you will discover is exactly the way he looks at these sonatas, as mini-concertos rather than intimate diary sheets. And, to me, this is the proper way to consider them. Mozart, never really comfortable with baring his soul in his music (although there are exceptions, such as
, the Requiem, Piano Concerto No. 24, and Symphony No. 40), chose instead to create sparkling solo works that emphasized the brilliance of the performer rather than offering emotional or psychological confessions. In this respect he was more strongly influenced by the keyboard works of his friend Johann Christian Bach than by his older colleague Haydn.
What I find particularly interesting in Mozart’s sonatas is his very sophisticated use of harmonic changes, even in the early ones, written when he was 18 or 19 years old. There are so many little harmonic “traps” through which Mozart allows the music to fall (I emphasize this to illustrate the way the music falls on the ear; nothing he does ever sounds forced or artificial) that one is continually brought up short by the sheer audacity of it all. There are little touches of humor, particularly in those little upward turns of phrase that end on a soft note, and are then followed by a pause, creating expectancy in the listener without overplaying his hand. Listen particularly to the sonata K 284, where the opening movement sounds eerily like early Beethoven—even those little downward triplet figures that sound as if the pianist is pushing the beat. No wonder Ludwig was impressed by his music.
All of this is brought out by Dumont in a sparkling, effervescent manner, but as I say, his playing is free of the superficial glibness one hears in so many young pianists nowadays. I would go so far as to say, judging by this set, that he has an old soul in a young body. His remarkable sensitivity to phrasing and touch do indeed make him, as described in the liner notes, “an authentic and true musical personality, able to give his own signature to the most famous pieces while respecting their deep sense.” For once, the praise is not hyperbole.
One thing I would caution against, however, is doing what I did, which is to listen to the whole set in one day. These sonatas tend to sound alike in general design if you do that (except, of course, for K 331 and some of the late sonatas), so playing just one disc a day will help you focus a little better on the high quality of the music. As to whether or not you will want to acquire this set, I say go for it if you don’t already have the Brautigam. If you do, the choice is yours. Checking both sets on ArkivMusic, I see that Dumont’s cycle sells for $10 less than Brautigam.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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