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Haydn: Piano Sonatas Nos 20, 34, 51 & 52

Paul Lewis (piano) (Harmonia Mundi)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Piano Sonatas: No. 20 in C minor; No. 34 in E minor; No. 51 in D; No. 52 in E flat
Paul Lewis (piano)
Harmonia Mundi HMM902372   65:30 mins


The two grandest and greatest among these sonatas were composed for women pianists whose playing Haydn particularly admired. The C minor Sonata was specifically aimed at the talents of the sisters Katharina and Marianna Auenbrugger, and a tricky crossed-hands passage in its finale may have been partly responsible for the long delay before the piece appeared in print, in 1780; while the E flat Sonata was written for the London-based pianist Therese Jansen, a former pupil of Clementi. Also written during Haydn’s London visit of 1794-95, but much more intimate and smaller in scale, is the two-movement Sonata No. 51. It’s no less original, but it’s curious to find it placed at the end of Paul Lewis’s programme, following on from the equally innocent-sounding Sonata in E minor, composed more than 20 years earlier.

Needless to say, there’s much to enjoy in Lewis’s playing – not least the lyricism of the C minor Sonata’s opening movement, or the depth of the Adagio in the E minor Sonata and the brilliance of the finale in the E flat. But Lewis makes heavy weather of the C minor Sonata’s middle movement, whose marking of Andante con moto and ‘running’ left-hand part suggest it needs a more flowing tempo; and elsewhere, it’s possible to feel he occasionally exaggerates Haydn’s ritardandos and pauses, allowing the tension to flag. It would have been nice, too, if some of the repeats could have been slightly more varied. But this great music is so well played, and with such obvious affection, that it seems churlish to complain.


Misha Donat