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Haydn Piano Sonatas

Sonatas 49 in C# minor, 32 in G minor, 59 in Eb, 62 in Eb (HXVI: 36, 44, 49, 52)

John Lill (piano)

Signum Classics SIGCD097

There is no consensus on how to play Haydn; the suppleness and liquidity to which most Mozart or Chopin interpreters aspire is not necessarily right for Haydn, as discussed in a recent comparison of two major complete sonata sets.

Lill is known as a strong pianist, well-defined rather than flexible, four-square and full of integrity. This goes well with the bucolic straightforwardness that many see as an essential component of Haydn. The very opening of this disc shows Lill's approach at its best. The first movement of HWVI 36 has a perfect certainty and rightness, giving it an unaccustomed stature and solidity. This is not always successful the tripping finale of HWVI 49 is surely meant to be less ponderous than Lill plays it, though this is clearly conscious choice; at other times, Lill is extremely light on his feet, as in the elaborate melodic lines of the HXV1 49 and 52 slow movements. HXVI 52 is of course the largest of the sonatas. Lill's big-boned playing is an obvious match, though at times, the passagework of the finale can seem gabbled.

But Lill does also bring interesting subtleties to his interpretations. First, he catches the balance perfectly between flow and rhythmic pulse in the minuet movements listen to the last movement of HWVI 36 for example. Second, his exactness of rhythmical delivery leads to new insights into the relation between theme and elaborations. When HWVI 49 starts, it sounds slow, even over-deliberate; once the second subject arrives, we realise that a faster tempo would have jumbled the semiquavers.

There is a fine, dry recording by Limo Hearn. Lill is on record on MusicalPointers as being delighted that a number of his unissued recordings are now seeing the light of day, allowing him to be represented in a more mature light than his early ASV Beethoven sonata cycle.

Since the two E flat sonatas (49 and 52) are generally regarded as the best that Haydn wrote, this is an extremely recommendable disc.

Ying Chang