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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Sonata in G minor, Hob.XVI: 44
Piano Sonata in G major, Hob.XVI: 40
Piano Sonata in E minor, Hob.XVI: 34
Piano Sonata in C major, Hob.XVI: 48
Piano Sonata in C minor, Hob.XVI: 20
András Schiff (piano)
Recorded in Teldec Studio, Berlin, January, 1997 DDD
WARNER ELATUS 2564 60677-2 [73’45]
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The piano music of Haydn has always been important to András Schiff. He nearly always includes a sonata in his public recitals, and made a superb recording of a number of them quite early in his career for Denon. He then went on to record a larger selection for Teldec in the 1990s, of which the first is now re-issued on the medium priced Elatus label.

Although interest in these works is not as great as, say, the Beethoven sonatas, it has grown steadily since John McCabe’s pioneering complete set from the 1970s. Schiff’s contribution to our understanding and enjoyment of these marvellously inventive, under-rated pieces is as important as any pianist. The sheer grace, fluidity and dexterity of his pianism are ideally suited to much of this music, and there is not a dull moment anywhere on this disc.

It probably helps that Schiff has always preferred a crisp, brightly-voiced piano, usually a Bösendorfer or a Yamaha, which complements his basic approach. As in his recordings of Bach and Schubert, tempi are never extreme, phrasing is always beautifully poised and liquid without losing the sense of structure. Most of the sonatas recorded here are simple in construction (often straight two-movement form) and show the indelible influence of C.P.E. Bach. But this is deceptive, and within the basic framework Schiff’s playing is finely proportioned, creating an arresting expression of the music’s homogeneity and dramatic intensity. He includes all repeats, which could make one anticipate monotony. Instead the results are fresh and inventive, with Schiff adding careful bits of ornamentation to vary the repetition subtly each time. He is also alive to the pioneering aspects of the music, such as the fusion of rondo and variation form that was to influence Beethoven. This is particularly relevant in the finale of the E minor Sonata, where his distinctive handling of the different textures enhances the contrast between sections and adds the required light and shade so crucial to the music’s inner life.

There is also a real awareness of the poetry Haydn infused into his slow movements. Though most of the sonatas here only give a hint of the great adagios to come, the slower, more introspective music (often minor key) has great feeling and depth. Above all, Schiff is able to convey the wit and panache, the hints of sturm und drang, the sheer exuberance of a master composer developing his skill in the keyboard area.

Even in a crowded field, this is almost self-recommending. The recording is warm and truthful, with the piano beautifully caught by the engineers. Excellent notes by Misha Donat, though curiously there is no place for the little G major Sonata among his detailed discussions; either an oversight or perhaps an editor’s error in the re-packaging.

Tony Haywood


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