Review: Christian Blackshaw, Buxton International Festival 

Christian Blackshaw grew up in nearby Macclesfield so his appearance in this year’s Buxton International Festival is almost a homecoming – and hugely welcome he was. Christian completed a series of live recordings of all Mozart’s piano sonatas at the Wigmore Hall in 2013. In a crowded field these were immediately recognised as an outstanding addition.

Christian has a very economic and “correct” style and posture at the piano – no extravagant flourishes and gestures, he is very much a servant of the music and for this recital he presented three extremely well-known and admired Sonatas.

Mozart’s Sonata in A minor, K310 dates from 1778 when he was just 22 – though Mozart was, of course, a hugely experienced composer by then and this is hardly the work of a youth. This was not an especially happy time for him; his mother died in that summer and in the previous winter his love for a singer was not returned. 

The Sonata is dramatic and emotionally charged though critics have argued that this is not necessarily attributable to Mozart’s well-being – what you certainly have is an accessible, very human piece of music.

The Sonata in B flat major, K333 was probably composed late in 1783 when Mozart was 27. By now he was married and this is much more settled, less troubled music. Packed with melodic ideas and invention this is the music of someone seemingly at ease – and in a way that makes it less engaging. A pianist friend – familiar with this music for half a century – offered the view that in his playing Christian Blackshaw’s style was more romantic, less strictly classical, and that this suited better his playing of Schubert.
After the interval Christian played Schubert’s Sonata in C minor, D958 – one of his three late and great pieces for piano. If my friend had any questions about the playing of the Mozart he had no reservations when it came to the Schubert.

The three final sonatas were rather neglected in the years after Schubert’s death but over the last 90 years or so have come to be recognised for the singularly great achievements that they are. Christian Blackshaw’s totally compelling account was warmly applauded and that sense of enthusiasm was carried over into discussions outside the hall.

By Keith Savage