Haydn: The London Sonatas

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ALBUM TITLE: Haydn: The London Sonatas
WORKS: Keyboard Sonatas: No. 59 in E flat; No. 60 in C; No. 61 in D; No. 62 in E flat; Variations in F minor
PERFORMER: Gottlieb Wallisch (piano)

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Until quite recently, Haydn’s 52 keyboard sonatas – or 62, according to a more recent catalogue – were largely neglected. Today, evidently fascinated by their inventiveness and diversity, pianists are queuing up to record them. In his latest release, comprising the last four sonatas Haydn composed together with the great Variations in F minor, the Viennese pianist Gottlieb Wallisch bears comparison with the best of recent recordings by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Marc-André Hamelin and Yevgeny Sudbin.

His technique and touch are immaculate, his tempos are judicious and, without over-emphasis or eccentricity, he always phrases meaningfully – never more so than in the long, leisurely slow movements of Sonatas Nos 60 and 62, in which Haydn’s wayward flights of decoration are unfailing integrated into the music’s slow underlying progress. And his account of the alternatively plaintive and fanciful, but ultimately tragic Variations in F minor is the more powerful for refraining from over-milking the pathos at the end.  

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There’s just one caveat about the recording. The crisp transparent sound of Wallisch’s model D Steinway is finely captured up to the top of the treble stave. Above that, the notes seem to catch the ambience, resulting in a pinging resonance sounding almost like a different instrument. Some may like this pearly tintinnabulation, but it does at times make the textures sound top heavy. A pity. Bayan Northcott