Mieczyslaw Horszowski, W.A. Mozart: The Complete Piano Sonatas Vol. I

Thomas Bartlett

By Thomas Bartlett

on 04.22.11 in Reviews

These energetic performances of Mozart's piano sonatas were recorded by the great Polish pianist Mieczyslaw Horszowski between 1960 and 1969. At the time, Horszowski, already in his 70s, was the only pianist to perform the sonatas as a complete cycle. It is often said that Mozart is best understood and performed by either the very young or the very old, with the simplicity of innocence or with the clarity that comes with great experience, and Horszowski's late Mozart performances certainly bear out the affinity between the legendary composer and the elderly. Never known for his technical prowess, Horszowski's facility had begun to deteriorate, but he played with a sloppy ebullience and joyful vivacity that perfectly suits Mozart's deceptively simple sonatas. He had a more deeply ingrained sense of dance than any other major 20th-century pianist, and that allowed him to find a rhythmic liveliness and spring in these sonatas that so many other performances, either metronomically classicist or romantically mushy, miss out on.

From the ’60s, the great Polish pianist performs Mozart’s sonatas as a complete cycle.

The five sonatas on Disc One were all written in 1775, when Mozart was 19 years old. All are written in major keys, and, with a few minor detours into melancholy, are rather carefree and playful emotionally. The best of the bunch is Sonata No. 2 in F Major, which has a gentle Adagio that Horszowski performs with a lovely, rich and singing tone, and a Presto that showcases the aforementioned danciness in his playing.

Disc Two opens with Sonata No. 6 in D Major, the best and most difficult of Mozart's 1775 sonatas, with a 15-minute final movement in variation form, itself as long as most of his previous sonatas. But the disc highlight, despite unfortunately poor recording quality, is the Sonata No. 8 in A Minor, Mozart's first minor-key sonata, and by far the meatiest he had composed up to that point.