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CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS

Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Sonatas - Volume 2
CD 1
Piano Sonata No. 46 in E major, Hob XVI:31 (issued 1772) [12:20]
Piano Sonata No. 56 in D major, Hob XVI:42 (pub. 1784) [11:51]
Piano Sonata No. 48 in C major, Hob XVI:35 (pub. 1780) [19:07]
Piano Sonata No. 53 in E minor, Hob XVI:34 (pub. 1783) [13:01]
Piano Sonata No. 41 in A major, Hob XVI:26 (1773) [11:52]
Fantasia (Capriccio) in C major, Hob XVII:4 (1789) [5:40]
CD 2
Sonata 'Un piccolo divertimento' (Variations) in F minor,
Hob XVII:6 (1793) [12:45]
Piano Sonata No. 59 in E flat major, Hob XVI: 49 (1789/90) [20:23]
Piano Sonata No. 34 in D major, Hob XVI:33 (c.1773) [17:25]
Piano Sonata No. 52 in G major, Hob XVI:39 (pub. 1780) [16:00]
Piano Sonata No. 58 in C major, Hob XVI:48 (c.1789) [12:19]
Marc-André Hamelin, (piano)
rec. 27-30 August 2008, Henry Wood Hall, London, England. DDD
HYPERION CDA67710 [74:03 + 78:54] 
Experience Classicsonline

This 2009 Hyperion release is the second instalment in this series coming appropriately in the year of the bicentenary of Haydn's death The acclaimed first volume, another double set, was recorded in 2005 also at the Henry Wood Hall, London on Hyperion CDA67554.

For Haydn's piano sonatas I prefer to use the numbering method devised by musicologist H.C. Robbins Landon in addition to the Hoboken-Verzeichnis catalogue system.

Haydn, a keyboard player himself, wrote some fifty piano sonatas over a period from 1760 to 1794. He ceased composing in the genre fifteen years before his death unlike his fellow Vienna-based contemporaries Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert who all continued to write sonatas up to the end of their lives. Arguably the piano sonata was not always as successful a medium for Haydn as the string quartet and the symphony proved to be. Notwithstanding, I believe that Haydn's finest works in the genre contain some remarkable music and rank with the best composed before Beethoven's piano music took centre-stage. Biographer James Cuthbert Hadden has written, 'Haydn, building on Emanuel Bach (Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach), fixed the present form, improving so largely upon the earlier, that we could pass from his sonatas directly to those of Beethoven without the intervention of Mozart's as a connecting link. Beethoven's sonatas were certainly more influenced by Haydn's than by Mozart's.' (Haydn by James Cuthbert Hadden, pub: 1902 Pellegrini and Cudahy, New York).  

This second volume in Marc-André Hamelin's Hyperion series comprises ten piano sonatas and the single movement C major Fantasia (Capriccio) works that span a twenty year period.

There are numerous recordings of Haydn piano sonatas available in the catalogue. Recently I have noticed many piano soloists including a Haydn score in their recitals. Only last week as part of the Ribble Valley International Piano Week I attended a recital at Stonyhurst College with renowned soloist John Lill giving an impressive performance of the Sonata No. 62 in E flat from 1794. For many music-lovers these Haydn scores remain undiscovered gems of the recital programme hidden behind the keyboard scores of Beethoven and Mozart.

The first disc opens with the Sonata No. 46 in E major, Hob XVI:31 composed around 1773 and issued privately in 1776. Designed in the neo-baroque style I enjoyed the central movement Allegretto reminiscent of a chorale prelude. Hamelin plays beautifully with astute selection of tempi. Cast in two movements the Sonata No. 56 in D major, Hob XVI:42 was published in 1784. The extended opening Andante con espressione is an extended set of elaborate variations. In this fine example of rococo style writing Hamelin's fingers just dance over the keys with great delicacy. One of Haydn's less demanding scores the Piano Sonata No. 48 in C major, Hob XVI:35 was one of a set of six sonatas published in 1780.

The Piano Sonata No. 53 in E minor, Hob XVI:34 is from three sonatas published in 1783. Here I was struck by the perfect concentration by Hamelin and his confident choice of dynamics feel just right. The wonderful opening movement Presto of the Sonata No. 53 in E minor, Hob XVI:34 (pub. 1783) crowns the score and is one of my favourite Haydn movements. Compared to Brendel's 1985 Henry Wood Hall account Hamelin's choice of tempo, much quicker than I am used to, works exceptionally well. In addition Hamelin's pauses are used to provide a significant anticipatory effect. Composed in 1773 the Sonata No. 41 in A major, Hob XVI:26 was published a year later as part of a set of six sonatas. The A major score has an extended opening movement marked Allegro moderato to which Hamelin conveys a devoutly serious and determined air. The appealing single movement Fantasia (Capriccio) in C major, Hob XVII:4 from 1789 has a rather zany, robust and virtuosic feel.

The second disc opens with the Sonata 'Un piccolo divertimento' Variations in F minor, Hob XVII:6 composed in 1793 and published in Vienna in 1799. Regarded by many as Haydn's most famous single piano score the Variations in F minor was possibly intended as the first movement of an unfinished sonata and later renamed as Sonata - Un piccolo Divertimento. My published Verlag edition contains the inscription that the score was composed for pianist Barbara von Ployer also bearing a dedication to Baroness Josefine von Braun. It has been suggested that the news of the death of Marianne von Genzinger in 1793 inspired the score and maybe drove Haydn to add, at the last minute, a heart-breaking Coda. Hamelin's playing certainly holds the attention with his perfectly proportioned interpretation wrapped in natural warmth and expressiveness.

Composed in 1789/90 the autograph score of the Sonata No. 59 in E flat major, Hob XVI: 49 bears a dedication Maria Anna Jerlischeck, a housekeeper at Esterházy. Hamelin provides considerable drama to the impressive opening movement Allegro that accentuates and develops the thematic material of the opening theme. In the Sonata No. 34 in D major, Hob XVI:33 composed around 1773 I enjoyed the somewhat serious writing of the central Adagio complete with an underlying tension that never seems to be resolved. Published in 1780 the Sonata No. 52 in G major, Hob XVI:39 contains an attractive Prestissimo finale. Buoyant and vivacious playing from Hamelin that certainly provides a strong flavour of Scarlatti. The final score on the set is the Sonata No. 58 in C major, Hob XVI:48 that Haydn composed around 1789. With assurance Hamelin conveys a distinctive air of nobility, almost aloofness, to the extended opening movement Andante con espressione.

As alternatives for those looking for a single disc of Haydn piano sonatas I can suggest the performances of real distinction played with great artistry and intimacy by Leif Ove Andsnes. The disc that consists of the sonatas 30; 33; 24; 32 and 44 was recorded in 1997/98 at the Abbey Road Studios, London on EMI Classics 7243 5 56756 2 0. Another single disc of Haydn piano sonatas worth considering are the thoughtful and intuitive performances of sonatas 53, 54, 56 and 62 from Alfred Brendel on Philips 475 7185.

In my collection I have three separate discs of Haydn piano sonatas played with a natural authority by Emanuel Ax on Sony Classical that will provide considerable listening pleasure. Ax recorded the earliest disc consisting of sonatas 58, 33, 60 and 38 in 1988 at Concordia College, Bronxville, New York on SK 92766 (also MK 44918). The second disc of sonatas 47, 53, 32 and 59 was recorded in 1993 at the Academy of Arts and Letters, NYC on Sony SK 53635. A third disc of sonatas 31, 34, 29, 49 and 35 was recorded in 2000 also at the Academy of Arts and Letters on Sony 2-89363.

Probably the best known series of the complete Haydn piano sonatas is the splendidly consistent set from John McCabe played with considerable affection. Recorded between 1974/77 at the All Saints Church, Petersham the 12 disc set is available on Decca 443 785-2. Another complete set of the Haydn piano sonatas worth considering is the super-budget priced series from Jenő Jandó on Naxos. Jandó's attractive performances display a confident directness of style. The 10 disc set of the Complete Haydn Piano Sonatas is on Naxos 8.501042.

There are three or four splendid discs available for those who wish to hear Haydn piano sonatas played with an authenticity of sound that the composer himself would have been familiar with. In the 1770s and 1780s the prominence of the harpsichord and the clavichord was beginning to wane with the popularity of the fortepiano at its peak. Certainly all three instruments were in regular use during the time these compositions were made. I have enjoyed Gary Cooper's imperious performances on a fortepiano (anon. c.1785) for Channel Classics. Notwithstanding this is specialist territory and the sound of the fortepiano will be an acquired taste for some. Cooper recorded five of Haydn's Late Piano Works sonatas 58, 59, 62 and the G major and F minor variations in 2008 at Doopsgezinde Kerk, Deventer, Netherlands on Channel Classics CCS SA 26509.

There is also a reissued three disc set of sonatas splendidly played by Andreas Staier. The set comprises the sonatas 58, 59, 60, 61, 62, 48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 33, 53, 34, Arietta con 12 Variazioni, Hob. XVII/3; Sonata 'Un piccolo divertimento' Variations in F minor, Hob XVII:6 and the Variations on 'Gott erhalte den Kaiser'. Recorded in 1989 and 1992 at the Schulzentrum in Lindlar, Germany, Staier uses two separate fortepianos on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 82876 67376 2.

Ronald Brautigam the renowned period instrument specialist has recorded Haydn's complete music for solo keyboard. The impressive set played on fortepiano includes an unusual keyboard arrangement of The Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross (pub. 1787) that Haydn authorised. Brautigam's recordings were originally issued in instalments between 1999 and 2004. The complete 15 disc collection was released in 2008 on BIS-CD-1731/33.

Shirley Mathews has recorded an outstanding disc of five Haydn piano sonatas using a modern copy of a 1770 French double harpsichord. Issued in 1991 this release of sonatas 33, 38, 41, 43 and 47 is available on Gasparo GSCD-284. Another disc of music for harpsichord that I admire is played by Catherine Perrin on a Jacob and Abraham Kirckman instrument from 1772. Recorded in Quebec in 2002 the disc includes the Haydn Sonata No. 38 in F major plus 4 works by Mozart and 1 from J.C. Bach on Atma Classique ACD2 2301. 

A magnificent achievement from soloist Christine Schornsheim is her 2005 issue of the complete Haydn keyboard works. I note the Seven Last Words on the Cross is not included. Schornsheim plays five historical keyboard instruments on these 13 discs of music; with an interview on a 14th disc. The earlier works are played on two different harpsichords; one a copy of a generic 18th century French instrument and the second an original two-manual Kirckman (1777). A copy of a late 18th century clavichord is also used. The later works are played on a Viennese-type Dulcken fortepiano (1793) and a Broadwood grand pianoforte (1804). Recorded in 2003/4 Schornsheim's set is found on Capriccio 49 404.

To summarise: this Hyperion double set contains some of the finest performances of Haydn sonatas I have heard. Hamelin's playing overflows with ardent lyricism and I especially enjoyed his naturalness of rubato. The close sound quality from the Henry Wood Hall is impressive and the booklet essay by Richard Wigmore is helpful too.

Michael Cookson


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