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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732–1809)
Four Sonatas
Sonata No. 39 in D (Hob.XVI:24) (?1773) [10:43]
Sonata No. 31 in A flat (Hob.XVI:46) (1788, ?1767-70) [17:37]
Sonata No. 60 in C major (Hob XVI:50) (c.1794-5) [14:29]
Sonata No. 62 in E flat major (Hob XVI: 52) (1794) [19:40]
Brigitte Meyer (piano)
rec. 4-6 June 2018, Fazioli Concert Hall, Sacile, Italy
GENUIN GEN20686 [62:29]

I start with the finest, most innovative Sonata 62 which begins with an Allegro displaying a wealth of stances and moods yet, from Brigitte Meyer, a constant authority of projection. So, the opening is majestically imposing while retaining, in its incorporation of dotted rhythms, the ability to dance, to enjoy repeated fanfare like cascades of semiquavers (tr. 10, 0:09), then demisemiquavers (0:27). Between these a mulling over, a drawl with dance elements in an expansively descending chromatic melody (0:17), after which a high tessitura accompaniment becomes as important as the lower melody, notably so accompanying the opening theme’s transformation in the ‘tenor’ register (0:40). Yet, equally surprisingly, the second theme (1:20) moves from frilly playfulness via a determined rush of energy to a more triumphant transformation (1:37) of the beginning of the opening theme. Here, then, is a winning combination of grand rhetoric and dazzling runs of awe-inspiring brilliance, just the effect Meyer’s dexterity has.

I compare the recording made in 2019 by Paul Lewis (Harmonia Mundi HMM 902372). This is a knockout in virtuosic display, yet in danger of becoming an end in itself. I prefer the greater prominence Meyer gives the transformation of the opening theme in the ‘tenor’ register and directness of her triumphant version of the opening theme, where Lewis emphasises its breadth in its tied third note which becomes a mannerism on repetition. The same might be said of his careful treatment of the second theme which pulls against its essential gaiety.

The E major Adagio slow movement is paradoxically both ostentatious in display yet inward in feeling as the glory of its main theme is revealed eventually in a rise of two octaves. In the exposition second part (tr. 11, 1:14) there’s a fortissimo crisis (1:19) before the return to the opening calm (1:32). For me Meyer removes the ff dynamic a little early. The development begins in E minor (2:42) with another crisis stormily announced loudly in the bass register, only to be derided in G major in the soprano register (2:48). But the second attempt more urgent (3:28) and panicking (3:39) in turn creates a void that can only be filled by a supercharged main theme Meyer supplies with cogent assurance.

Lewis, taking 6:28 against Meyer’s 5:35, is more concentrated; Meyer’s treatment of the dotted rhythms is more skipping. I prefer Lewis’ gradation of the ff crisis in the exposition second part which gives more impact to the softer return of the opening theme and loud elaboration thereafter. Meyer’s bass in the development is more dramatically threatening but, in the recapitulation, I find the limpid pull of Lewis’ playing refreshing.

The Presto rondo finale is all Haydn chicanery. A false start, pause, and again, making you alert for the remnants of a theme just heard but now in quavers in the left hand against skittering semiquavers in the right. Next (tr. 12, 0:23) a countertheme in the right hand, a display passage with sforzandos for both hands (0:34), a release of tension (0:41) leading to what feigns a melodic resolution but becomes the hands’ sparkling, rapid exchange of semiquavers (0:53) until a solo basso profundo F sets up a frolicking codetta. Meyer is wonderfully vivacious and entertainingly plays with your expectation of a resolution that never comes. The development’s combative opening (2:46) gives way to a more decorative, gracious manner, though later a pressing tune can be glimpsed and later still chromatic colouring. A watershed is reached with an Adagio cadenza (4:06) marked from f, then pił forte to ff, though Meyer maintains an even mf.

Lewis excels in revealing the finale’s quicksilver changeability, but I feel overplays the manic elements. Meyer gives us a gracious countertheme where Lewis is scattershot. Lewis’ dynamic contrasts at the Adagio cadenza are better, but Meyer has the edge in the hands’ thrilling exchange of semiquavers.

Now, my best of the rest. Best other first movement: Sonata 60’s, a daredevil progress. A simple, soft but pert opening, loud repetition, confidently elaborated in high tessitura, with equally vibrant running semiquavers in the left hand, a synergy of presentation confirmed when the hands switch roles. In the development (tr. 7, 3:37) the right hand’s wanderings are far and wide and there are frequent strong contrasts of dynamics, pitch and sonority, like the creepy pp open pedal presentation of the theme in octaves in the bass clef (4:15). The coda’s initiative is a piquant theme that can stand its own in the company of the opening one (6:40). In all this ever restless, marvellous incongruity Meyer proves robust and unfazed.
Best other slow movement: Sonata 31’s. This Adagio begins with an orderly rising first theme in the left hand over which the right develops an exquisitely falling countermelody which takes the lead, especially when it becomes more florid with profuse trills (tr. 5, from 0:51). At a pause (1:20) Meyer inserts a delicate eingang (mini cadenza), after which there’s an idyllic coda. In the development (3:56) the counterpoint gets more elaborate, the right-hand melodic placement more rarefied, the intricacy of whose mix scrupulously revealed by Meyer. When the first theme is recapitulated in the right hand its ends of phrases are immediately mocked an octave higher (e.g., 5:03). But this doesn’t disturb the recap of the countermelody, pause and lovely eingang from Meyer (5:52). In the point of pause within an extensive coda Meyer adds another eingang (7:02) where the Wiener urtext offers two suggestions for a cadenza, whose greater scope better matches the coda’s expanse. No matter, this is a gorgeous movement.

Best other finale: Sonata 39’s. A simple, ever syncopated theme almost immediately goes into higher register and tripping quaver runs as if the arrival of a Presto dance has brought on the giggles. Meyer makes it ecstatically scrambled while still playing the right notes. In the climactic third strain (tr. 3, 0:47), Meyer’s right hand’s quavers’ momentum is a marvellously happy-go-lucky mirage of notes stabilized a touch by the left hand’s staccato crotchets’ bite.

Michael Greenhalgh

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