Haydn’s Piano Sonatas Nos 33, 53, 60 & 62 performed by Leon McCawley)

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Somm
ALBUM TITLE: Haydn
WORKS: Piano Sonatas Nos 33, 53, 60 & 62; Variations in F minor
PERFORMER: Leon McCawley (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 0162

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Four of Haydn’s best loved and most recorded piano sonatas make up this recital together with his uniquely poignant Variations in F minor (bafflingly sub-titled by the composer ‘un piccolo divertimento’). The modern piano, of unspecified make, is of crisp and even tone, if slightly neutral character, cleanly recorded in an acoustic neither too resonant nor too dry. Leon McCauley’s approach might also be described as middle-way: not for him the pert ‘period’ mannerisms or the proto-Romantic exaggerations that some other pianists have brought to Haydn: expressive rubato is always contained within a steady rhythm while the sustaining pedal is used only sparingly.

Yet, within a few springy bars of the Scarlatti-like opening of Sonata No. 53, it is evident that he commands dexterity of fingering to rival Marc-André Hamelin (on Hyperion). Nor does his precision of touch preclude intensity of feeling, whether in the warmly affectionate unfolding of the ornate Adagio of Sonata No. 60, or the clinching fierceness that he finds in the penultimate section of the bleak C minor finale of Sonata No. 33. And by launching into Haydn’s last and most ambitious Sonata, No. 62, at a relatively sweeping pace, he is also strikingly successful in uniting its tricky juxtapositions of grandeur and playfulness. Yet his account of the F Minor Variations is the stronger for his refusal to overblow its tragic coda or to milk the pathos of its closing bars. More Haydn from this pianist would be welcome.

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Bayan Northcott