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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Sonatas Volume 2
Piano Sonata No 50 in D major Hob XVI:37 [12:14]
Piano Sonata No 46 in E major Hob XVI:31 [12:00]
Piano Sonata No 6 in C major Hob XVI:10 [9:15]
Piano Sonata No 33 in C minor Hob XVI:20 [23:39]
Piano Sonata No 13 in G major Hob XVI:6 [15:05]
Piano Sonata No 11 in B-flat major Hob XVI:2 [13:37]
Piano Sonata No 35 in A-flat major Hob XVI:43 [16:36]
Piano Sonata No 12 in A major Hob XVI:12 [9:08]
Piano Sonata No 58 in C major Hob XVI:48 [11:20]
Roman Rabinovich (piano)
rec. 2-10 January 2019, Olivier Music Barn, Tippet Rise Arts Center, Fishtail, Montana, USA
Reviewed as a digital download from a press preview
FIRST HAND RECORDS FHR072 [57:12+65:34] 

I was hugely impressed by the Tashkent born Israeli pianist Roman Rabinovich’s first volume of the Haydn piano sonatas back in 2018, so I have been very much looking forward to this second instalment. As will be clear from my review of that first volume (FHR071, pending), I rate Rabinovich extremely highly in Haydn and this new set confirms and expands that view.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of this recording is Rabinovich’s ability to tune into the specific character of each sonata. A superb example of his way with this music is the first movement of the D major sonata. Rabinovich’s tempo is fast, as befits an Allegro con brio marking, but he doesn’t run away with the brilliance of the writing, preferring a slightly more muted approach. The effect is of an overture to an opera buffa where the comedy is about to burst out. I think of Don Alfonso in Cosė Fan Tutte muttering sotto voce ‘If I don’t laugh, I will burst!”

Where others stampede through the finale of the C minor sonata, finding sforzandi where none are indicated, in search of Beethoven avant la lettre, Rabinovich finds almost Mendelssohnian lightness and, consequently, surprising pathos. This is a masterly account of this sonata and is wholly typical of the way Rabinovich trusts the music not to need any special pleading. He takes Haydn’s tempo markings seriously where rivals settle too frequently for a generic fast and a generic slow. The Andante con moto in this sonata is lovely example: he applies just the right amount of mobility to let the music flow without losing its character as a slow movement.

The E major sonata, No 46, blossoms in Rabinovich’s hands. He understands that this is a rather introverted and graceful work for all the brightness of its key. This leads him to resist the temptation to overplay the links to Beethoven in the development. In the stately E minor middle movement his balletic way with the tread of the bass turns it into a solemn dance and draws out a quality of seriousness latent in the opening movement. It is never overdone, because this is a movement with a hint of sadness rather than hysteria and despair. Similarly, the more extrovert finale glitters gently rather than dazzles.

Rabinovich clearly has a great deal of affection for the early sonatas, as do I. Whilst they make lack the complexity of the later works, they are ingenious and full of invention and emotion. Rabinovich is unafraid to caress a melodic phrase, as if to remind us that Haydn’s was the age of sentiment, of Rousseau and not just Voltaire. In terms of performances, all of this means that Rabinovich lavishes as much care and passion on the early sonatas as he does the later ones.

It will be noted that all the examples I have cited come from the first CD of this two-CD set. I could just as easily have done the same with the second disc. Every sonata on this remarkable set contains such subtleties and delights. Anyone who fears that this music will involve an endless procession of cheery D major allegros or F major minuets is in for a wonderful surprise. Rabinovich’s belief in this music shines from every note and I cannot recommend it more highly. In my review of Volume One I noted that it seemed to me the best available recording of the Haydn sonatas despite fine rival accounts by the likes of Leon McCawley, Markus Becker and especially Ekaterina Derzhavina. Volume Two is, if anything, even better and it will most definitely be amongst my Recordings of the Year.

David McDade

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