In my mother's and then later my wife's collection of cookbooks was one called 'The Joy of Cooking.' I can think of no better epithet for this two-CDs-for-the-price-of-one collection of Haydn piano sonatas than 'The Joy of Music.' We know that Haydn was one of the most joyful composers and certainly that adjective applies to his 60 or so piano sonatas (of which there are ten presented here) and there is absolutely no pianist before the public today who conveys the joy of music-making more than Marc-André Hamelin. Even though I would never have dreamed he would bring out a Haydn sonata collection -- one associates him with less-well-known music, usually of the super-virtuoso sort -- I am thrilled that he did. (And come to think of it, Haydn's sonatas aren't as well known as they deserve to be.) Let me say that this set eclipses any other Haydn sonata recordings I know. It's that simple. There is a such superhuman clarity, such grace, such stylish phrasing, pearly runs, precise figurations, such technical aplomb and such high spirits as to allow me no other conclusion.
The contents of the two CDs are representative of Haydn's entire sonata output, with a couple of the masterful late sonatas -- Nos. 50 in C and 52 in E flat -- cheek by jowl with some of the earlier, less experimental ones, such as No. 23 in F.
It's a wonder to me that Haydn sonatas are not more often played or recorded. Perhaps, like the piano trios, it's because there are so many of them. But if you compare the number of recordings and performances of Mozart sonatas with these gems the disparity is astonishing. I find that I turn to the Haydn sonatas in my own listening more often than I do the Mozarts, although I love both sets of sonatas immoderately. And now that we have this group of sonatas played by Hamelin I suspect I'll be doing so even more often; in fact, there has been no other music in my car CD player for the past two weeks. Is it too much to hope that perhaps there will be more Hamelin recordings of Haydn? One can only wish.
It's a lovely gesture, by the way, that Hyperion has chosen to issue this set of two CDs for the price of one. Thank you, Hyperion! And thank you as well for including the enlightening and exhaustive essay on the sonatas by Richard Wigmore.
Very enthusiastically recommended.
Mark-Andre Hamelin has recently issued a second two-CD set of Haydn piano sonatas to follow-up his initial set discussed below. I have reviewed the second set here on Amazon/UK. Thus, I thought it would be useful to post my review of Hamelin's first set of Haydn for readers and listeners who may be interested.
This two-CD set has received a great deal of attention from my fellow Amazon reviewers (referring here to the United States site)and elsewhere both for the music and for the performance. Marc-Andre Hamelin offers a virtuoso performance of ten Haydn piano sonatas. I will comment on the performance, but will devote most of this review to the music.
As to Hamelin's performance, I found it idiomatic and expressive. Hamelin has a large technique, and I think he understands this music. He does not sentimentalize it or give the listener the impression it comes from a music box. He shows outstanding control of the varied kinds of touches required by this music, excellent dynamics and phrasing and appropriate use of the pedal. Tempo is a perpetually controversial question in music of the early classical era. I found Hamelin's tempos in the fast movements brought out the character of the music, and they were contrasted well with the sensitive playing in the many beautiful slow movements. I found Hamelin playing offers great insight into Haydn. As with any great music, the readings of any performer, regardless of how gifted, do not constitute the only word.
But the main attraction of this set is the opportunity to hear a large cross-section of Haydn's piano sonatas. Joseph Haydn (1732 -- 1809) composed for solo keyboard throughout his career. His style and compositional skill developed with the years, just as it did with the symphony. Haydn's sonatas show well the development of the classical sonata style and make for highly enjoyable listening. For many years, Haydn was viewed in the shadow of Mozart and Beethoven and not for himself. His piano sonatas, in particular, were undervalued. Happily, this situation has changed.
The sonatas in this compiliation represent Haydn at all his compositional stages with the exception of the earliest, i.e. pre-1766.(The authenticity of these earliest works has been questioned. Listeners wanting to explore them may with to hear Jeno Jando's recording of sonatas 1 -- 10 on Naxos.) Haydn generally wrote his sonatas for students or, in the case of the final works, for virtuoso performers. He did not compose for his own performance, as did Beethoven or Mozart. Richard Wigmore has written unsusually detailed notes for each of the sonatas on these CDs and I found they helped greatly with my understanding of the music. Haydn, in contrast to Mozart, frequently wrote for the piano in a percussive style, which Hamelin brings out well. It is a different approach to the classical sonata which will surprise some new listeners. Haydn makes use of strong syncopated rhythms, frequent counterpoint, and, often, of heavy octaves. His themes tend to be short and brusque and are developed and expanded with repetition and with great use of variation form. C.P.E. Bach is often considered an influence on Haydn's sonatas, but I thought frequently of Scarlatti as I have heard Hamelin and others play this music.
The earliest sonatas in this collection are nos.46 and 43, both of which are in A flat major. They were composed in the late 1760s. The no. 46 in particular is highly improvisatory in character, and Haydn makes the first of what would become many moves of harmonic daring in his keyboard music in the following slow movement. Sonatas 23 and 24, included on this set, are also early works. They were published for Prince Esterhazy and are full of glitter and galantrie. The second movement of no. 23 is a flowing sicilienne which may well have influenced Mozart when he began to compose piano sonatas.
Sonatas 32 and 37 were composed in Haydn's mid-career between 1773 -- 1780. They are radically different from each other. Sonata 32 in B minor (the only minor key work on this program) is a worthy product of what is sometimes called Haydn's sturm und drang period. It consists of music of great tension, force, and intensity. The outer movements are spare and austure and include, in the finale, forceful writing in octaves. The middle movement is a minuet with a stormy trio that complements the outer movements. The sonata no. 37, in contrast, is a more popularly-styled work, with galant outer themes and a moving slow movement.
The remaining four works in this set were composed between 1781 and 1785. Sonatas 40 and 41 are in two movements (as are three other sonatas from this period, 42,48,49, not included here) and show Haydn's continued willingness to experiment and change forms. I especially enjoyed Sonata 40 in G major. It opens with a movement in double variations -- major and minor key alternating -- fetchingly marked "allegretto innocentemente. The second movement is contrasting in its quirkiness, speed, and good humor.
The final two sonatas in the collection are, fittingly, Haydn's final works in the form which are generally regarded as his masterpieces. They were composed during the years Haydn was in London with the second set of "London" symphonies and were written for a professional pianist named Therese Jansen. Sonatas 50 and 52 are difficult to play and almost symphonic in scope. As does much of Haydn, they conceal a great deal of art and skill underneath what appears to be delightfully accessible music. The sonata no. 50 in C major develops a simple, spare theme in many ways over the course of a spacious opening movement. (In the development of this sonata, Haydn gave the only pedal marking he offered in his solo keyboard compositions.) It is followed by a lyrical slow movement and a short, humorous conclusion with pauses, backtracking, and false endings. Sonata no. 52 in E-flat major is a broad spacious work, with an opening movement that develops a variety of themes, in contrast to the single-themed no. 50, a harmonically complex and deeply chordal slow movement, and a virtuosic conclusion.
Those listeners who are new to Haydn's sonatas will get an excellent overview of them in this fine CD.
on 6 September 2009
When one thinks of Marc-André Hamelin, one is most likely to picture an amiable, bespectacled man playing the most demanding creations of Alkan and Godowsky with an unruffled ease that is scarcely conceivable. In this double disc, Hamelin turns to Haydn's keyboard sonatas, and succeeds admirably. The only criticism I can make is that some of the sonata movements are too fast - possibly, the first movement of Hob.XVI/50 is a little rapid, and for me, the opening movement of Hob.XVI/23 is rushed. However, even if one disagrees with the tempi, Hamelin expertly brings out Haydn's humour, vigour and surprises with fine attention to detail. His sound is light and clear, the recording is excellent, and this is a very pleasant set.
on 25 August 2010
Hyperion have another glorious winner in their CD player, with Marc-Andre Hamelin'S rendition of Haydn's Piano Sonatas. When he composed them, Haydn gave his sonatas a life of their own, all so totally different, yet each one is so expressive when played by Marc-Andre. As I listen over and over, I understand how Hamelin completely understands what is expected of this music. In the fast movements he plays with abandon, and lets his fingers dance along the superlative Steinway . But when the mood changes, his fingers glide gracefully across the keys. Unquestionably he is at one with these sonatas. His interpretation of the music is without question
on 26 July 2009
I have to confess I have not been familiar with Hamelins playing and purchased this CD purely for the sonatas, trusting to luck rather than judgement, though reading through previous reviews did assist a great deal. What a real treat and pleasure this double CD turned out to be! Truly delightful playing, just the right interpretation of these sonatas, and a joy to listen to; so much so, I dug out my Haydn sonatas and felt inspired to relearn them.
This CD has proved so relaxing and enjoyable, I will now make a point of investigating more of Hamelins recordings.