There is no generally agreed set of "Great Haydn Sonatas".
Every pianist picks his own subset, and these usually overlap
only partially - a hint as to
the richness of the goods that are available. Don't be mislead by the album name:
most probably not all that you love is here. Ronan O'Hora recorded four sonatas
and Andante con variazioni
in 1997, but the CD was issued by Regis only
in 2009. This is a pity, because it preserves such wonderful performances. There
is no haste - and this is especially noticeable in the first movement of the C
. The beauty of every note and of every pause is savored. Haydn worked
here with minimal means, and managed to create exalted beauty in the smallest
things: an interval can be beautiful, a long note, a staccato run, a plain triad,
a simple harmonic change. O'Hora's playing is very careful, allowing the music
to sing, never pushing. The pianist does not "scarlatti-ize" the music
like Leif Ove Andsnes on EMI. O'Hora's approach is closer to Alfred Brendel's
on Philips, soft but not too Romantic. Still, he is not mimicking anybody, and
his style is special.
The Sonata in F major
is always a surprise. The second movement Adagio
unique depth and light. When I listen to it, I feel like becoming a better person,
and vow to change my life and start doing good things. Just kidding - but not
far from truth. The two movements that frame it are lit with calm smile, and
have the close resemblance of siblings.
Haydn's muse rarely sang in the minor key, but when she did, it was unforgettable.
His Sonata in C minor
is an anticipation of Schubert. The first movement
is a wide canvas woven of beautiful melodies, sunlight and shades, Schubert's
horses and Mozart's fountains. The second movement seems tranquil and innocent,
yet has episodes of intensity; still more moving when produced with such a light
touch. The closing movement again has unity with the first one. It also has those
moments of free flight that are so rare in music and that make music such a unique
art. This is not the eagle's flight on mighty wings, as in Eroica
Second Symphony. This is the graceful fall of a leaf. Mozart could do it. Chopin
was a master of it. And Haydn has it in plenty, especially in the piano music
and piano trios. One would never guess this if you were relying only on his symphonies.
The Sonata in C major
has only two parts: a calm, expressive Andante
and an optimistic, glittering Rondo
. There are few dark clouds in the
sky, but they dissolve quietly. O'Hora takes pleasure in every note and turns Andante
yet he never loses the listener's attention. Heaven and Earth combine in the
ensuing Andante con variazioni in F minor
, as in Beethoven's late sonatas.
Actually, the Sonata has something common with Beethoven's Op.111, but most of
all with the Andante
of his Pastoral Sonata
. I wouldn't mind it
being twice as long, it's just so beautiful. Sometimes it is evokes a menacing
cortège, dreamy night-music, sometimes it suggests celestial bell-ringing
above Elysian meadows. After it, the E-flat major Sonata
sounds like an
awakening from a disturbing dream. Haydn returns to his cheerful, sunny style.
This provides a fitting, very Haydnesque, conclusion to the program.
The recording quality is very good, and the piano has lovely sound. I wonder
why on the British Regis label nobody found time just to look at the disc cover
and correct the typos. But don't mind the looks: the contents are a marvel.
Most people think about Haydn's music as something just nice and entertaining.
Penetrating the heart, romantic drama, philosophical depth probably wouldn't
be the first priority. This disc can prove the opposite. The programming is wise,
interleaving bright major with introspective minor. Above all, what makes this
album really precious is the playing of Ronan O'Hora. I am not talking about
the technical side: it is all there, don't worry. I am talking about the feeling
- this magic that breathes life into every note and pause. Maybe it's just love.