Andrew Rangell

Haydn: Piano Sonatas

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The profusion of recordings of Haydn's keyboard sonatas that have come along since about 1980 is all to the good, for many of them have revealed something new about the music. Just as much as the sonatas of Beethoven, they stand up to multiple interpretations. Haydn's sonatas even have their radicals by now, and American pianist Andrew Rangell is indubitably one of them. Rangell is a fearless and quite charismatic pianist whose live concerts sometimes bring really memorable surprises (he's been known to whistle the optional flute part in Charles Ives' "Concord" Sonata, for example). His recordings are often worked out in extreme detail and bear little resemblance to other versions of the same works. This set of four sonatas from the middle part of Haydn's career furnishes excellent examples. There isn't a phrase that isn't worked over somehow, with lots of use of the pedal (which Haydn would have found utterly mysterious), and Rangell keeps to a consistent tempo only when he has a specific reason for doing so. The CD is accompanied by a booklet with Rangell's own notes, which are both highly enthusiastic and filled with a good deal of detail about what it is he's trying to accomplish. It's hard to predict how individual listeners will react to performances like these, but one can give Rangell credit for doing what he set out to do and offer some provisional observations. On the plus side, Rangell's takes on Haydn's unique phrase structures are worth investigating. Hear the very beginning of the Piano Sonata in D major, Hob. XVI 42, where Rangell breaks up the opening phrase of the Andante in a curious way and pursues its implications throughout the movement. Beethoven certainly knew these sonatas well, and perhaps he thought about them in something of the same way Rangell does. On the minus side, Rangell's galant is just not galant. And the two minor-key sonatas, emotionally weightier works, are so loaded down with expressive detail that they get to be a bit exhausting. Sample well to see if you happen to be a kindred spirit of this maverick pianist, whose lack of orthodoxy is equally apparent in early keyboard music and in modern works.

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