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Franz Josef HAYDN (1732-1809)
The Complete Piano Sonatas - Vol. 6
Piano sonata in E minor, Hob.XVI: 47 (before 1766) [10:23]
Piano sonata in E flat major, Hob.XVI: 45 (before 1766) [18:48]
Piano sonata in D major, Hob.XVI: 51 (1795) [5:28]
Piano sonata in C major, Hob.XVI: 48 (1789) [12:02]
Piano sonata in E minor, Hob.XVI: 34 (1778) [13:27]*
Roland Batik (piano)
rec. 26-27 May 1997, Studio Burgenland, Eisenstadt, 29 April 1998, Studio Baumgarten, Vienna*.  DDD
CAMERATA CM-546 [61:13]

Haydn's keyboard sonatas are nowhere near as well known as they ought to be.  He was not a virtuoso pianist of the order of Clementi, Mozart or Beethoven, but he was not unskilled at the keyboard.  His keyboard sonatas were primarily vehicles for his own performance and they are gems, full of interest, wit and lovely lyricism.  This disc is the sixth of nine in a complete set of the sonatas recorded by Austrian pianist Roland Batik in the 1990s.  It appears that they have been waiting until now for their first release.
I had not encountered Roland Batik before hearing this disc.  He studied with Friedrich Gulda, among others, and made his debut as a pianist in 1978.  For six years until 1988 he formed one half of a piano duo with Paul Gulda, before deciding to go his own way.  As well as playing and recording classical repertoire, he continues to play with a jazz trio he founded in the late 1970s and is increasingly pursuing a career as a composer.  All of this information comes from the brief but helpful liner notes.  Originally in German, they are also rendered in English, though the translation is pitted with minor errors.
Batik is an excellent Haydn pianist.  The overall impression of these recordings is one of delicacy and gentle wit.  Throughout these performances he maintains Haydn’s long lyrical lines with limpid legato phrasing.  Batik's articulation is precise, but never too hard edged and his dynamic control is superb – he coaxes wonderful pianissimi, like distant bells, from his keyboard in the andante of the C major sonata, for example.  His choice of a mellow-toned Bösendorfer 275 suits his approach.  The recorded sound is also warmly supportive, perhaps a touch more immediate in the sonata Hob.XVI: 34, which was recorded separately.
Batik plays the opening larghetto of the E minor sonata Hob.XVI: 47 with delicacy, a firm pulse and rhetorical integrity.  The allegro and the final minuet are nicely proportioned.
The opening moderato of the following E flat major sonata is moved along by firm bass voices.  The central andante is poised, with generous but not overindulgent touches of pedal to keep the bass notes lingering under the right hand's delicate figurations.
The andante of the D major has an understated courtly grandeur and that gentle wit, and the following presto is charming. 
The andante of the following C major sonata is entirely lovely.  Batik takes the "con espressione" marking very much to heart and is quite free in the final bars.  He clearly enjoys the darker colours of the modulated minor section of the dancing rondo.
The opening of the E minor sonata Hob.XVI: 34 is strongly characterised.  The adagio has a sense of freedom and in the final vivace molto Batik’s dancing fingers remain true to Haydn's innocentemente marking.
Having listened to the disc several times through, I cross compared the D major and C major sonatas with András Schiff’s roughly contemporaneous recordings on Warner Classics (2564 60807-2 and 2564 60677-2 respectively), and the E minor sonata Hob.XVI: 34 with Brendel (Philips 475 7185) and Schiff again.
In each case I preferred Schiff and Brendel, but not by much.  Schiff finds more contrast and colour in the D major sonata and generates greater excitement in the presto in particular.  In the C major, Schiff is more involving, playing with greater fantasy.
While Batik captures the Sturm und Drang mood of the E minor sonata Hob.XVI: 34, Brendel and Schiff are even more effective.  Both are more probing in the opening presto and more free in their rubato, so that Brendel takes 5:55 over this movement and Schiff takes 5:41 to Batik’s 3:48, without either really feeling slower.  Brendel is more exploratory with the rising arpeggios in the left hand, more characterful with the answers given by the right hand.  Schiff's approach, even more contrasted dynamically, is similar.  While Batik’s adagio is delightfully free, Brendel's contrasting articulation and colouring is more striking and Schiff finds more wit.  Brendel and Schiff are both more exciting in the finale too, though here it is a closer race between the three.
Brendel and Schiff are more interesting and engaging overall, but there is no denying the sheer beauty and polish of Batik's pianism and his affection for Haydn.  This is Haydn playing that caresses the ear … perfect late night listening.
Tim Perry


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