Haydn: Sonatas, Hob. XVI:18, 44 & 46; Divertimenti, Hob. XVI:1, 5 & 19

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Ars musici
WORKS: Sonatas, Hob. XVI:18, 44 & 46; Divertimenti, Hob. XVI:1, 5 & 19
PERFORMER: Robert Hill (harpsichord)
CATALOGUE NO: AM 1283-2
Robert Hill sets out his stall in his booklet note: to use the standard disposition of his harpsichord (modelled on a mid-18th-century French instrument) as colourfully and flexibly as possible in order to support the structure and spirit of Haydn’s music. True to his word, Hill uses the harpsichord’s contrasting manuals and its buff stop (creating a lute-like sonority) to ‘orchestrate’ these early sonatas in a way few modern players venture. The implicit echo effects in, say, the first movement of Hob. XVI:1 – a mechanical-looking piece on paper – are piquantly realised here; and the frequent contrasts of colour in the catchy final rondo of Hob. XVI:19 are not only delightful in themselves but help to articulate the structure. Two of the sonatas here – Hob. XVI:44 and 46 – are among Haydn’s most searching works from the 1760s; and with his uncommonly free, rhapsodic approach Hill consistently heightens their affinity with the empfindsamer Stil of CPE Bach. Here and there, as at the opening of the G minor (Hob. XVI:44), the combination of liberal rubato and rapid changes of sonority can impede the music’s momentum and disrupt the balance between Haydn’s phrases. But if Hill sometimes over-stresses the music’s waywardness and discontinuity, he is always alive to the intimate, intensely personal character of these two sonatas. There have, of course, been memorable recordings of Hob. XVI:44 and 46 on the modern piano. But Hill’s playing – colourful, impassioned, inventive – makes a strong case for performance of this music on the kind of instrument for which it was written. Richard Wigmore

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