Haydn: Piano Sonatas Nos 23, 24, 32, 37, 40, 41, 43, 46, 50, 52

COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Haydn
WORKS: Piano Sonatas Nos 23, 24, 32, 37, 40, 41, 43, 46, 50, 52
PERFORMER: Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67554
With this generous selection of ten Haydn sonatas Marc-André Hamelin joins a select band of front-ranking players – Alfred Brendel, András Schiff and Emanuel Ax are the names that come readily to mind – who have seriously championed the cause. If these sadly neglected works. When it came to the keyboard sonata Haydn was, in fact, no less of a pioneer than he was in the realms of the string quartet and the symphony, and the best of his sonatas are of a quality that was seldom matched by Mozart.

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Hamelin kicks off with the late C major Sonata, H50, nailing his virtuoso credentials firmly to the mast with a mercurial account of its opening movement. Some may prefer Schiff’s more measured approach, but Hamelin’s playing is dazzling, and his ‘presto’ finale is no less witty than Schiff’s. Much less well known, and probably the earliest genuine masterpiece in the piano repertory, is the A flat Sonata, H46. Hamelin gives a warmly expressive account of its profound slow movement, in the unusual key of D flat major, and again dashes off the ‘presto’ finale in bravura style. These are altogether splendid performances, and only very occasionally do they fail to convey the music’s full depth. The rather hurried and spiky account of the opening Allegretto of the Sonata H40 is a rare disappointment, but Brendel (Philips) goes too far in the opposite direction, turning it into an Andante. Only Schiff’s Teldec recording perfectly captures the quality of pastoral innocence Haydn wanted. For the rest, Hamelin’s beautifully recorded performances can’t be recommended too highly. Misha Donat