Saturday 17 December 2016

Piemontesi - Mozart, 15 December 2016

Wigmore Hall

Piano Sonata no.4 in E-flat major, KV 282/189g
Piano Sonata no.12 in F major, KV 332/300k
Piano Sonata no.5 in G major, KV 283/189h
Piano Sonata no.15 in F major, KV 533 & 494

Francesco Piemontesi (piano)

I shall deal with the first ‘half’ – that is, the E-flat major Sonata and the first movement of KV 332/300k – quickly, since, thanks to a stray electronic device, it was not really possible to assess, or indeed to enjoy, Francesco Piemontesi’s performances. (It is not something on which I wish to dwell, but I could hardly write about the concert and not mention it.) The first movement of KV 282/189g went relatively undisturbed. It sang as a true Adagio, imbued with a sense of the luminous, even numinous; this was, we rightly felt, special music, conveyed with (mostly) chaste passion. Harmonic surprises told without exaggeration. The first Minuet had a spring in its step, the second contrasting of its own nature, the subtlest of rubato aiding its way. Alas, the closing Allegro’s performance seemed compelling, but it became almost impossible to tell. There was certainly just as varied a palette of articulation and dynamics. Lively, and characterful, the F major Sonata, KV 332/300k, sounded as if it had come straight from the world of opera buffa, albeit with a few more seria moments. I was struck anew by the extraordinary concision of the development section, but already a high-pitched noise was rendering the performance unlistenable, and, more to the point, the pianist visibly disconcerted. Despite a gestural plea from him and a second verbal request from the Director, John Gilhooly, to check hearing aids, our own and those around us, interference continued. It was decided to bring forward the interval: a pity, but undoubtedly the right thing to do in the circumstances.

The second ‘half’ opened in an atmosphere of increasing relief (in more than one sense). The slow movement of the F major Sonata, with which it began, flowed nicely; more ‘Classical’ than ‘Romantic’ in conception, without underselling its seductive beauties. Piemontesi very much had the measure of Mozart’s string-like writing in certain of the left-hand passages. The composer’s written-in ‘ornamentation’ proved melodically generative in itself. Allegro assai is Mozart’s marking for the finale – how I struggled with this, many moons ago, for my Grade 8! – and Allegro assai it was, in a highly yet not excessively rhetorical reading. It was recognisably of a similar operatic world to the first and second movements.

We returned, then, to the earlier Mozart, to the G major Sonata, KV 283/189h. Overflowing with melody, the first movement benefited greatly from due attention to the twin gestural and structural roles of motivic offshoots of those melodies. A fruitful tension between twin beauties, pristine and more complex, performed a similar role in the ensuing Andante. Likewise in the finale. Perhaps it is not an entirely successful work, at least when judged by the standards of the fully mature composer, but even its problems fascinate, ensnare, especially in a performance such as this. Piemontesi’s suggestions of the orchestral tutti were well judged, as was the sense, once again, of opera seria (Lucio Silla, perhaps?)

The second of the F major Sonatas we heard received perhaps the finest performance of all. In the first movement, its Bachian lessons learned, loved, absorbed into a tonal and dramatic universe as all-encompassing as that of Shakespeare, we heard a command of line such that primacy of melody could both be reinstated and, vis-à-vis the harmony beneath, subtly questioned. Balance was the thing in the counterpoint, just as it should be. I initially found the Andante a little on the cool side, although there was no doubting its poise, nor its clarity. Greater volubility came with the development’s minor mode – how could it not? – and its extreme chromaticism, such frightening intensification making retrospective sense of what I had first doubted. The recapitulation’s flirtations with the future, Webern in particular, were relished as further development, for there was no doubting the profundity of either work or performance. After such Mahlerian intensity, the rondo finale necessarily struck a very different note. (The split Köchel numbering reflects its earlier composition, as a stand-alone piece, albeit in need of considerable revision for inclusion here.) It was definitely alla breve, its particular lightness of touch neither denied nor underlined, although the mysteries of its episodes ensured that victory was not too easily won; the music, rightly, retained its sense of enigma.