'There's a crispness of attack and articulation that's reminiscent of a harpsichord,...
Andrew McGregor 2003-10-01
The classical piano sonata doesn't seem to achieve mass appeal until you reach Beethoven's contributions. Mozart's Sonatas are appreciated, but not really taken to people's hearts in the way that the 'Moonlight', 'Hammerklavier' or 'Appassionata' manage. The same is true of Haydn's 60-plus examples, despite recordings from some distinguished pianists, and despite the attentions of someone like Ronald Brautigam on BIS, whose Haydn on fortepiano has been very well received. But it's still seen as specialist territory...even more so when you throw a period instrument into the works.
But here's a new CD that deserves to find a wider audience for Haydn's intimate but inspired sonatas; it's from Emanuel Ax, who manages to have a foot in each camp without compromising either. It's a modern concert grand, but Ax is also an expert interpreter on fortepiano, and he captures something of the sonority of the earlier instruments in the way he plays here...a crispness of attack and articulation that's reminiscent even of a harpsichord, yet with the sustain of the modern piano to warm the sound, without losing any of the brilliance of his fingerwork.
Try the Minuet finale of No. 34 for this exhilarating precision; The opening of No. 49 has all the weight and drama you could ask for, yet the delicate Minuet and Trio that ends the Sonata is gossamer light, gently questioning. Ax is fully alive to Haydn's humour as well, as you'll hear in the Presto ending of No. 35 - or if you want a perfect example of his balance between period style and interpretative instinct, you'll find it in the slow movement of the Sonata No. 31 in A flat, which sings, beautifully.
Without Haydn's Sonatas, it's hard to imagine what Beethoven's would have been, and these works really ought to be more highly, and widely, regarded. Emanuel Ax is a worthy champion, and this third disc of Haydn Sonatas for Sony is his finest. For the moment...
Like This? Try These:
CPE Bach: Sonatas and Rondos (Mikhail Pletnev)
Beethoven: Piano Sonatas (Artur Pizarro)
JS Bach: The Toccatas (Angela Hewitt)