Well firstly, congratulations! Both for your ECHO Klassik award (Best Concert Recording of the Year, for Mozart Piano Concertos KV 453 and KV 482 with the Freiburg Barockorchester), and on your Gramophone Award nomination for Artist of the Year. You must be walking around with a permanent smile on your face
Thank you very much! Yes, both of those are very meaningful. The Mozart especially, because it was my first Mozart disc with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, and a project that has always been a big dream of mine. Then of course the Gramophone nomination. It’s a nice moment to see myself in a list with people like John Eliot Gardiner. He’s been an absolute hero of mine since I was thirteen or fourteen.
You’ve also had a busy summer of festivals. What have been your favourite moments?
I’ve done Bach sonatas for violin and harpsichord with Isabelle Faust at the Ansbach Bachtage and the Snape Proms, which has been wonderful. I also did a really magical programme at the Edinburgh Festival with a good friend of mine, the clarinettist Nicola Boud. We concocted a programme of music for clarinet and fortepiano that included the Mozart Kegelstatt Trio (on a late 18th century clarinet and five octave fortepiano), and the Brahms E flat Clarinet Sonata (on a copy of Richard Mühlfeld’s instrument and an 1850s straight-strung piano). It’s the first time I’ve done the E flat on an old piano and with an old boxwood clarinet, and it was just fascinating to explore this autumnal music of Brahms through the lens of this slightly more focussed, and yet at the same time kind of dreamier, period sound world. A really terrific experience.
On to the future, and you’ve got an important début at the end of this month with your first solo evening recital at the Wigmore Hall. That must be an exciting prospect for you.
It really is. There’s a special kind of fun and terror about playing at the Wigmore, because you know how deeply the audience cares for all of this repertoire. I’m very much looking forward to the programme I’m playing too, because it’s a Mozart one that I think combines the very best of what we know and love about him, but also one that sheds new light on some of his lesser known works. For example, I’m playing the C Major Suite K.399, which is just an absolutely awe-inspiring piece, but I’m combining it with a couple of shorter pieces to make a sort of pseudo suite. It’s a bit post-modern of me to do that, but I think that the fact that these smaller pieces exist in dribs and drabs might make them candidates for inclusion into a larger whole. So, we’ll see if it works.
Was there anything you just had to include in your programme for that evening?
The “Alla Turca” A Major Sonata. It’s a piece that I didn’t play at all when I was growing up, but since recording it a year ago I’ve played it a lot. To start a keyboard sonata with a set of variations, in 6/8 time and Andante grazioso, was just not what a composer was supposed to do in the 1780s, but that’s exactly what Mozart did. It inspired Beethoven to open his A flat Sonata opus 26 with a theme and variations, and I find these mini revolutions that Mozart sets in place just compelling. Every time I play the Sonata, I feel it has a very profound effect on me and the listener. You just sense that Mozart is stretching all the time, in very subtle and delicate ways, but no less vivid and revolutionary for their subtlety.
You’re also about to record Volume 8 – the final instalment – of your cycle of Mozart Sonatas for Harmonia Mundi USA. How are you anticipating these recording sessions? Will they bring new pleasures and challenges? A bit of, “here we go again”?!
All of the above. I’m very sad, to be honest. It’ll take me a long time to get over this because it really feels like home territory in the best possible sense of the word. I remember being very struck by reading an interview with Mitsuko Uchida, who did her Mozart cycle when she was in her early thirties. She said that it was the right thing, at the right time, and the same was true for me. If Harmonia Mundi had said, ‘Mozart? Okay, maybe, but really we want you to do a Beethoven cycle right now’, then I would have said no. I really wanted to do the cycle in its entirety right now, one after another although with other projects mixed in, because you learn so much about what you think you know about a composer.
You do have a very profound connection with Mozart. What are you trying to communicate about him through your interpretations?
I want people to see Mozart as a kind of cheeky old guy, who has a very high opinion of himself, a terrific sense of humour, but is probably pretty arrogant. He’s desperately trying to break out of the mould of patronage but doesn’t have the tools to do it yet because of timing, and yet there’s music of such passion, commitment, colour, variety and raw-blooded fervour. It’s something I could only finally tap into when I started playing this music on original instruments. It never really came across to me when I played his music on the Steinway.
I’m also trying to rekindle Mozart’s incorporation of operatic ideals into the solo keyboard music. I don’t mean that it should sound more like Liberace, but I think that kind of flexible stage timing – where some scene changes happen quickly and others take a bit longer – is impossible to notate, and has disappeared a little bit from the vocabulary of expressive Mozart playing. I think it needs to be recaptured, and that was one of the things I felt very strongly about with my Mozart cycle: that we had to take a no-holds-barred approach to tempo, rubato, timing, breathing, freedom and flexibility, so that Mozart could emerge once again as more human, rather than the peri-wigged music-box figure that he can so easily turn into.
Mozart features strongly in your other notable solo recital début this Autumn, at the Louvre in Paris. I know that you’re no stranger to Paris as a performer, but how do you feel about this first solo date?
Its a big deal. National styles are so particular. Very often, people who are household names in one country play very rarely in another, so I count it as a very great honour and blessing that the Mozart cycle has been so well received in France. I think it’s meant that a lot of things have happened in Paris that might otherwise have taken a lot longer. I’ve got some concerto dates coming up in May next year as well, with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France under Bernard Labadie.
Life all sounds very exciting. What next?
In November I’m very excited to be working again with the Mozarteum Orchestra with Ivor Bolton. We’re doing the Mendelssohn D minor concerto on a very beautiful Erard piano from 1837. In December, there’s a big tour of Mozart and Mendelssohn concertos with the Freibug Baroque Orchestra. Also in December, I’m very, very excited to be working with Tafelmusik for the first time, directing them from the keyboard in a programme of CPE Bach, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and Mozart. We’re performing it four or five times, which is just total luxury.