WORKS: Keyboard Sonatas, Hob. XVI: 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26 & 44
PERFORMER: Alan Curtis (fortepiano, clavichord, harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: STR 33521
Schiff is a pianist with a reputation for turning everything he touches to gold, and this set of predominantly late sonatas has many fine points. He uses a modern piano, his fingerwork is neat, his ornamentation apt, and he plays all the repeats, decorating them as Haydn would have expected. He slightly Romanticises the music, making it sound a bit like Schubert at times; but in some works, Haydn was pointing in that direction anyway. If Schiff has a fault, itin his over-fondness for staccato, particularly noticeable in the second subject of Hob. XVI:49’s opening Allegro.
Curtis, playing mostly ‘middle period’ sonatas, uses period instruments – fortepianos, a two-manual harpsichord and, surprisingly, in Hob. XVI:21, a clavichord, on which he sounds slightly uncomfortable. He’s best on the harpsichord. But it isn’t the instruments that are the problem. It’s Curtis’s wayward approach to the music, his elastic rubato, his bumpiness and fly-swatting swipes at notes, his odd surges forward and pullings back. The finale of Hob. XVI:23 never quite settles to a regular pulse, and if you want to sample his handling of a passage in equal semiquavers, try track 18 from 8:20 to 8:31 minutes.
Jandó, again on a modern piano, is straightforward, does nothing fancy with the music, doesn’t decorate repeats, and plays, mostly, a little faster than Schiff. It’s a matter of taste, but I marginally prefer Jandó’s approach, and his discs sell for a fraction of the price. Curtis is scarcely in contention. Wadham Sutton