WORKS: Piano Sonata in C, Hob XVI:21; Piano Sonata in E flat, Hob XVI:28; Piano Sonata in F, Hob XVI:29; Piano Sonata in G minor, Hob XVI:44; Adagio in F, Hob XVII:9; Variations on the hymn ‘Gott erhalte’, Hob III:77
PERFORMER: Detlef Kraus (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CTH 2234 DDD (distr. RRD)
Haydn, who wrote some fifty keyboard sonatas, said he preferred the later ones played on a piano. To modern ears, however, the pianos of his day, with their nasal, stringy sound, seem almost as close to a harpsichord as to the modern grand.
Much depends on the player and the recording. Kissin projects a sonata from the 1770s and the famous E flat major work of twenty years later on a bold scale, with brilliantly articulated passage work and a wide range of dynamics. It’s a refreshing change from the self-conscious ‘Dresden china’ approach which older Russian pianists thought right for Haydn, but the recording is too distant, and the image of a Steinway thundering in a huge studio is far from a world Haydn might have recognised.
Lola Odiaga goes to the opposite extreme. She plays a selection of sonatas ranging over most of Haydn’s career, which makes for an intriguing journey. If, that is, you can bear the claustrophobic recording of a reproduction period instrument (modelled on a piano by Anton Walter of about 1790) which sounds as if you and Ms Odiaga are confined in a broom-cupboard.
Her approach is stiff and academic. She applies rhythmic shaping as if she’s simultaneously consulting a guide to good taste. The flowing finale of the popular E minor Sonata is ruined by her fussy point-making. If you want period performances, Andreas Staier on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi is preferable.
Detlef Kraus plays a modern grand, also recorded quite closely, but he’s an old hand who knows how to make Haydn sing naturally. He takes his time, especially over some of the embellishments, but he has an understanding of the music and his instrument which Odiaga, for all her academic credentials, lacks. Kraus constantly varies his touch, yet spontaneously, so that the music seems to continue and grow of its own volition. The programme notes are rudimentary, but the playing is mature and satisfying.