This piece can easily devolve into banging in the repeated left hand chords and unmelodic thumping in the right hand repeated notes. There is not a lot of melody, especially considering the amount of repeated E’s in the first phrase. The pianist’s challenge is to make this piece angsty and musical.
Reisenberg does this by leading to beat 3 in measures 1 and 3. This slight crescendo to and decrescendo from the beat creates a nice phrase, so the DNA of Mozart’s theme-the repeated notes-is not played like an apology, yet it doesn’t sound pedantic.
Not that the second theme is much more melodic. Is the melody in the right hand filigree or the left hand chords? For Reisenberg, the answer is the latter, but her left hand is still phrased with very precise shaping and rhythmic cut-offs. This is very string-like playing. The left hand continues to dominate when it splits into two-part polyphony, but the real magic is in the right hand. Even though it’s subordinate, this is some of the most lyrical playing for seemingly “filler” notes. How many times have you heard these 16th notes played completely rhythmically? Some people would say that every note is pearly, but I’m not really sure what that means. To me, her fast notes seem to float out of the piano, she’s playing with a beautiful, light, and even tone, yet it’s as if there’s no bottom of the keybed, no percussive beginning to any one tone.
I have to say a few words about Reisenberg’s development section: The drama is unleashed here. Mozart has undertaken a really nifty compositional trick. We hear the first theme in C major, elliding with the ending tonality of the exposition. He fakes a modulation to F major/minor, a perfectly natural progression, but in the sixth measure of this section, confuses the eye by replacing Db with the enharmonic C#. This makes no difference to the listener, but it’s a nifty trick to those following the score, signalling that something is up harmonically. In measure seven, we begin a downward cascade of broken chords on the dominant 7th of F, but in the next measure, rewrites that enharmonically as a German Augmented 6th chord so that we land in measure nine in B major. This key ‘splits the difference’ between the key we start in, a minor, and the relative major, C Major. The harmony isn’t stable in this new key for long, but it’s a noteworthy achievement that we ended up here at all.
What Mozart was never great with is pulling apart his themes. He didn’t need to, he could create drama with a new melody, or with these tricky slights-of-hand. Not coincidentally, the left hand lives in a range much lower than it has inhabited thus far in the piece, in a stormy pattern that’s new too. Meanwhile the right hand has some biting dissonances.
While Nadia Reisenberg perhaps kept the demonic powers at bay in the exposition, they are unleashed here. The bass booms, and while I’d have preferred that she not shy away from the right hand dissonances, she tracks the dotted rhythm through the entire left hand, creating a gnarly web of melody. When the first theme comes back briefly in A major, she makes no qualms about pounding here, while not hammering. As we land on the dominant to prepare for the return to a minor, she shows off the jumps and trills of the left hand very clearly. All of these elements make the Development section come alive.
It’s hard to find the right words to describe the magic that is the 2nd movement of this Sonata in Reisenberg’s hands. Certainly, I don’t dare track moment by moment pianistic tools that she uses. This is beautiful playing, which has the delicacy that so many people crave in Mozart playing, but still amply phrased and melodies differentiated with clear articulation. A visual inspection of the score suggests a busy sounding movement: plenty of articulation, phrasing, rhythmic variety and accompanimental vitality. All of these differentiations are present, yet the sound of the music is simple, straightforward and natural.
The finale is more agitated than angsty. Generally I’m happy with the balance she strikes between the hands. I think Mozart creates the illusion of independent hands, each hand with its own rhythmic ostinato and melodic shape, that line up for brief moments at cadences, when the left hand has quarter notes. I think a little more left hand would have made this compositional device more apparent, and the moments of coordination between the happens ironically jarring. But, when the hands flip ostinatos for the B-section in e minor, Reisenberg’s voicing is so mysterious and the interaction between the hands so nervous, that this oddly mono-themed Rondo is a great success.
Bonus: Attached to the playlist is another pianist who recorded this piece but no other Mozart Sonata--Dinu Lipatti.
"Modern performers seem to regard their performances as texts rather than acts, and to prepare for them with the same goal as present-day textual editors: to clear away accretions. Not that this is not a laudable and necessary step; but what is an ultimate step for an editor should be only a first step for a performer, as the very temporal relationship between the functions of editing and performing already suggests." -Richard Taruskin, Text and Act