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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Sonata in C Major Hob. XVI:21 [15:18]
Piano Sonata in E Minor Hob. XVI:34 [12:01]
Piano Sonata in E Flat Major Hob. XVI:28 [13:13]
Piano Sonata in A Flat Major Hob. XVI:46 [19:50]
Piano Sonata in F Major Hob. XVI:23 [14:36]
Markus Becker (piano)
rec. 2015, Grosser Sendesaal NDR Hannover, Germany
AVI MUSIC 8553369 [73:26]

The marvelous Markus Becker is a pianist known for exploring music from the edges of the classical tradition. I was somewhat surprised to see a Haydn recording from an artist who has recorded Reger, Hindemith, Schulhoff, Antheil, Reubke, Schmidt, Widor, Draeseke, Nielsen, Dussek, Onslow, and jazz. His only recordings of mainstream repertory appear to be a Hammerklavier and the Goldberg variations. But even in Haydn, Becker continues his advocacy for overlooked masterpieces by choosing early and lesser-known sonatas.

Becker brings to these works a clean, brisk approach, combining impressive technical control with whimsy and passion. He emphasizes the echoes of the baroque to be found in these early works, all from the 1770s. Becker’s interpretations remind us that Haydn wrote these sonatas while C.P.E Bach was still alive, as they share the older German master’s fascination with nervous allegros, probing adagios and motives careening along unexpected trajectories. Haydn, of course, dresses these emotions in a more classical form. Becker’s thoughtful notes for this recording give us the nick-names by which he identifies the “personalities” of each of the five sonatas.

Haydn’s opening allegros are often edgy affairs. The beginning of Sonata no. 21 in C major (the “Angular Sonata”) is awkward, even ill-at-ease. A similar nervousness opens Sonata no. 28 in E-flat major (the “Dance-like Sonata”) before this energy is replaced by music of greater drama. Another moment of quiet drama is the Allegro moderato of the Sonata no. 46 in A-flat (the “Majestic Sonata”).

Becker never dawdles in the slow movements, but neither does he seem rushed. There is a sense of steady movement. The rather serious siciliano in No. 23 in F major (the “Playful Sonata”) moves right along, still sounding mysterious. Another highlight is the richly ornamented Adagio of Sonata no, 21 in C major.

Becker’s final movements often dazzle. Sonata 46 in A-flat is especially joyous with its irregular theme. Becker makes the most of the tightly wound presto of Sonata 28 in E-flat.

Sonata no. 34 in E minor (the “Melancholy sonata”) is the only one of these five which has been frequently recorded. Of versions close at hand, Becker most resembles Alfred Brendel in lucidity and engagement. Adam Schiff is also sharply articulated, but uses more rubato. Marc-André Hamelin is superficially brilliant, but does not seem especially involved in the music.

All five of these excellent sonatas sound crisp and clean in Becker’s hands. The Avi engineers have provided admirable sound for this project.

Richard Kraus


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