I am somewhat astonished to find no reviews on this extraordinary recording! Perhaps one reason is that all this Haydn was released in the popular Philips Great Pianist series in Alfred Brendel I volume.
This is a vast flow of music, and so I will limit myself to three works:
- Haydn Piano Sonata in E flat major, Hob. XVI:52
- Mozart's Piano Sonata in F major, k332
- Mozart's Fantasia in D minor, K397
There are four great Haydn Piano Sonatas on the first CD, and all of them are played masterly. Yet it is the last Sonata that attracted me the most; and I was delighted to find that it is also played by Vladimir Horowitz, so I could compare the styles.
Haydn composed this sonata in 1794, on his last visit to London. It is specially fitted to the contemporary English piano built at that time. Haydn was not a piano virtuoso, yet this work is extremely technically demanding. Compare Brendel's interpretation with Horowitz'! Horowitz plays it on November 11, 1932 in 14'41:
Vladimir Horowitz: Recordings 1930-1951
while Brendel takes good six minutes more 50 years later, when he records the same sonata in July 1985! What is amazing, though, that Brendel does not seem to take extra time due to technical challenges; he simply plays it in a totally different manner; at times it seems as a different music from what Horowitz plays. Obviously, the fashion of playing any instrument has changed significantly - one can listen to Mozart's Violin concertos as they've been played by Heifez versus Hilary Hahn, for example, with a similar impression - that while the music is recognizable, at times it seems as two different pieces, while it is only a different interpretation.
Here is a comparison of how the movements are played by Horowitz vs Brendel:
I. Allegro - Horowitz 5'54'' - Brendel 8'17''
II. Adagio - Horowitz 5'14'' - Brendel 7'42''
III. Finale:Presto Horowitz 3'40'' - Brendel 5'12''
The difference is striking; yet Brendel shows off his brilliant technique at every turn; it is a rare time when I cannot say that Horowitz is better; I think his manner of playing is more "classical", so to speak, Haydn-style as it was a fashion of the time - more harpsichord-like, fast and furious. While Brendel's interpretation is much more "romantic" and expressionistic, with much more diverse tempi; yet integrity of the rhythms is perfectly preserved.
Next CD is devoted to Mozart works which are not too mainstream, or rather, they are less frequently performed than some others. To start with, Mozart's K332 is not the most frequently performed sonata; it is the last sonata from the same cycle with the more famous "Alla turca" Sonata K331. Mozart composed it in te summer of 1784. I have a perennial favorite recording of all Mozart Sonatas by Christoph Eschenbach:
Mozart: Piano Sonatas [Box Set]
and one can appreciate Brendel's magic over Eschenbach's expertise by listening to the way Brendel plays this virtuoso piece.
Next is Mozart's Fantasia in D minor, K397. Composed in 1782, the year when Mozart made a thorough study of the music of Bach and Handel, this Fantasia is heavily influenced by Bach's toccatas with their sometimes abrupt style shifts of mood and tempo, and their cadenza-like passages. In addition, this Fantasia (like majority of other Mozart's fantasias) carries the expressiveness of the keyboard music of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. It is an uplifting experience to listen to Brendel's playing it here and comparing it with its more famous sister Fantasia in C minor, KV 475.
This recording was for me a marvelous discovery - Haydn's Sonatas are not too often played these days, and it is tremendously broadening to get introduced to this music, especially with such a masterful interpretation. I also love Ivo Pogorelich playing Haynd sonatas, but he does not play any of what Brendel plays here. And Horowitz vs Brendel was a great discovery, too.
I highly recommend this recording.