Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Leap of Faith, aka Mozart from Daniel Ben Pienaar

OK, I know this animation isn't exactly JDCMB usual style. But I want you to hear the piano playing on the soundtrack. Currently it is all I can find on Youtube of Daniel Ben Pienaar playing the Mozart piano sonatas.  

Pas mal, hein? I've recently been sent the complete set to review -- it is just out on Avie Records, though the above video suggests that bits have maybe been floating around Magnatune for a while -- and as a whole it's the most fresh, vital, intelligent, inspiring Mozart playing I have heard in literally years.

If you enjoyed my post 'Let's hear it for.. the Mozart Piano Sonatas', then you'll love this recording. Daniel Ben plays the C minor Fantasy and Sonata as if it has stepped straight out of Don Giovanni. The sicilienne slow movement of the early F major sonata is as raw, painful and amazing as that of the big A major piano concerto or Pamina's 'Ach, ich fuhls..'. There's brilliance aplenty, too, as you can hear above. But essentially DBP (as a growing circle of pianophile admirers call him) meets the sonatas head on, throws out all the silly received opinion crap about them being tinkly salon pieces or rarified only-for-fortepianos early stuff, and embraces them as the full-on, every inch WAM, works of genius that they really are. I'm far from being the only critic who loved them: he's been highly praised in The Sunday Times and Gramophone as well, for starters. Get the album here.

So where has DBP been all our lives? I first came across him some while ago when he was recording Bach -- his Goldberg Variations is again among the richest, most thoughtful and provocative accounts of the work I've come across -- and I know he lives somewhere in London and teaches at the Royal Academy of Music, whose principal, Jonathan Freeman-Atwood, is the producer of the Mozart set and has recorded trumpet and piano works with him. He is South African and won the big competition in Pretoria a while back. He has also recorded more Bach, Orlando Gibbons (yes, on the modern grand, and jolly good it sounds) and lots of Schubert.

But that animation isn't so silly. In recording all the Mozart sonatas, and not being afraid to make his own very personal and profound statement with them, DBP has indeed taken a leap of faith. He has the air of an artist who will take a plunge from a high tower and sprout wings at the crucial moment. In the week of Mozart's birthday, I'd like to suggest that perhaps this set will be those wings.

Speaking of wings, those who tweet might like to know that there'll be a Mozart party on Twitter on the birthday itself, Thursday 27 Jan. Use the hashtag #mozartchat ... see you there.