Zhu Xiao-Mei

Mozart: Œuvres pour piano

(CD - Mirare #MIR 152)

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The sensitive, subtle Bach interpretations of Sino-French pianist Zhu Xiao-Mei are among the finest available on a modern piano. It's a rare Bach specialist who can also deliver top-notch Mozart, but Zhu proves herself the exception with this very nice disc of varied Mozart pieces. She manages to deliver readings that are, all at the same time, idiomatic, original in conception, and technically awe-inspiring (listen to the pure, clean lines of Mozart's left-hand parts in one of the more contrapuntal works, like the Piano Sonata in D major, K. 576). "Did Mozart really change?" Zhu asks in text in the album's graphics. "Or did he not remain the same, walking through life without stopping, simple, joyful, freer and more profound than ever?" Her answer is that between the works of Mozart's early twenties and the ones composed right before he died (his last keyboard work, a short Andante for mechanical organ, is included) there is more in common than different, and she puts this across in her playing quite uncannily. Everything is controlled, and the performance is the classic type of closed-grand-piano affair, but joyous spontaneity of invention comes through even in seemingly light works like the 12 Variations in C major on "Aj! vous dirai-je, maman," K. 265 (the tune is otherwise known as "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star"). That piece does well at the brisk tempo Zhu gives it, but the same is not necessarily true of the Adagio in B minor, K. 540, one of Mozart's most profound keyboard works. Zhu turns it into a kind of quasi-recitative, but her tempo is hard to square with Mozart's tempo indication. That's about the only sticking point, however, on this highly recommended and often gripping release.

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