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2.3.06

Dip Your Ears, No. 55

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W. A. Mozart, Piano Sonatas K. 330, 331, 332, 457, Mikhail Pletnev (released February 14, 2006)
Mikhail Pletnev is one of the great pianists in circulation – and more so than most others, he is (one of the few) highly controversial ones left. Brilliance and technique are never in question with him, but his take on well-loved classics – often with a certain amount of irreverence to the score – rubs many critics and a few listeners the wrong way. He has often said that he doesn’t consider any music in front of him as sacrosanct, and every so often it shows. His Schumann recording, for one, elicited an immediate love-or-hate response upon issuing (“improvisatory spontaneity” to some, “awful and wilful egotism” to others), while his more recent Tchaikovsky was almost universally praised. Those who know my favorite recordings know that I think his Scarlatti set to be among the best piano recordings ever issued.

His most recent issue of Mozart sonatas never had me think of any similar controversies until I came across a review in the April issue of The Gramophone where the reviewer thought it might indeed be the most controversial Mozart issue this year. The recommendation comes with some reservations and qualifications. Controversial to a piano music critic it may be, but in light of what Glenn Gould has done to Mozart (to far lesser effect), this isn’t really that far out there. It is, however, undeniably charming. I try not to recommend discs only because they are ‘nice’ – there are too many of those out there. Usually I pick recordings that are unique, have proved some new insight into a work, or could rank as ‘definitive’. (Even if I admit the idea of a definitive recording is – for the most part – nonsense.)

Pletnev’s Mozart is none of these things. It’s just damn enjoyable. His light touch, his indulgence, and his ornamentation make for beautiful music – and if he injects his personality into it with “wayward tempi,” I never find it self-conscious or obstructive in the least. More obvious to me, and unfailingly putting a smile on my face, are the little flourishes he adds in the first movement of the C major sonata, K. 330. When Pletnev stretches a movement out to hitherto unheard-of length, it doesn’t sound lugubrious, it sounds decadent, indulgent, lovingly caressed. I can see how such emotional squeeze might offend the odd purist or could get a little tiresome if applied – and listened to – without discrimination to all sonatas. But the CD here is not that, it is a well-proportioned helping (just over 70 minutes) of a documentary on Pletnev enjoying Mozart. Which is, coincidentally, the only thing controversial for critics about this disc: that someone else (Pletnev) enjoys Mozart differently than they and asks them to listen in. They hear ‘waywardness’, I hear love!

DG B0005832-02 (0 28947 75788)

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