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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Sonatas: Volume 3: Keyboard Sonatas: No. 33 in C minor, Hob.XVI:20 (1771); No. 35 in A flat, Hob.XVI:43 (first publ. 1783); No. 47 in B minor, Hob.XVI:32 (c1774); No. 50 in D, Hob.XVI:37 (c1779); No. 61 in D, Hob.XVI:51.
Alain Planès (piano).
Rec. Salle modulable, IRCAM, Paris, August 2001. DDD
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC901763 [65’31]


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There seems no doubt as to Planès’ devotion to, and love of, the keyboard sonatas of Haydn. That is the immediate impression this disc leaves. Everything is carefully considered, including the ordering of these five sonatas, yet there is also an element of spontaneity there that makes even a straight-through listen a joy.

He begins with a sonata in B minor (No. 47). Planès’ way is bold and direct, his ornaments clean. He projects the concentrated argument of the first movement well, contrasting this with the perky Presto finale, with its ‘pecking’ repeated-note theme. His articulation is faultless throughout.

The opening of the C minor (No. 33, dating from the same year as his only quartet in that key, Op. 17 No. 4) is again, bold, but here its boldness comes from its bare, sparsely-articulated delicacy. It is easy to see why some contemporary critics were against it, for it demands much of the listener. The Andante con moto is fully expressive within its stylistic confines (Planès’ shading of his left hand is most impressive); the finale this time notable for its delicacy.

All of which contrasts magnificently with the next Sonata in this disc’s running order, No. 50 in D major. Here the first movement oscillates between festivity and cheek. Under Planès’ fingers, some passages emerge as reminiscent of Scarlatti in party-toccata mode. Planès’ playing is here even more impressive than Brendel’s (the latter’s ‘honour’ can sometimes appear forced on disc). The question of precedents is again raised in this movement’s slow movement (‘Largo e sostenuto’) which is, without doubt, Handelian in breadth, full of rolled chords and stately dotted rhythms.

Another D major (No. 61) makes a sterling contrast to No. 50. Beginning with a serious Andante, it in effect brings the listener down to earth. The only sonata on this disc comprising only two movement (its total duration is under six minutes), it is pure delight. The only criticism is that Planès perhaps overplays the accents in the Presto finale, putting them on the harsh side.

The recital ends with the A flat Sonata, Hob.XVI:43 (proportioned almost identically to No. 47, which opened the disc, by the way). It is a marvellous example of understated genius, revealing its special qualities slowly. Planès takes risks even here, just getting away with some staccato phrase-endings without making them clipped. The finale is Haydn at his most delicious, inviting the listener to guess what he will do next. Indeed, towards the end of the movement, Haydn seems to be trying things out, with tempo changes and registral displacements. The final chord is a bit of a punch in the stomach, though!

Recommended without hesitation. Planès is a Haydn interpreter to be reckoned with.

Colin Clarke

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