Alain Planès

Haydn: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1

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Pianist Alain Planès' large group of Haydn sonata recordings for Harmonia Mundi is curiously divided in this release, with three discs here in the first volume and only one in the second, exclusively devoted to late works. The second volume hangs together nicely as a result, for Haydn's late keyboard sonatas, even more than his late symphonies, form a discrete group. The sonatas in the present volume cover quite a span of time, including works that were surely composed for a harpsichord all the way up to music nearly contemporary with the early works of Beethoven, Haydn's student. Planès approach is precise, occasionally brilliant, and heavily analytical; he teases every last motive out of the music, and he is disinclined to let a limpid slow movement or galant minuet flow naturally. In the minor-key sonatas, especially where Haydn really does sound a bit like Beethoven, this has positive outcomes, but pieces that are really very different end up sounding alike. Partly this is the result of Planès' tough keyboard attack, unpleasantly amplified by the strangely harsh environment of an IRCAM studio. Sample the late Piano Sonata in D major, Hob. 16/51 (CD 3, tracks 10 and 11) to get an idea of whether you'll be comfortable with Planès' approach: his is a very detailed reading, but the pleasantly pastoral quality that seems an inescapable part of this sonata is almost completely discarded in favor of a tight, nervous examination of the unusual triple meter in the first movement. This is a Haydn recording that will be stimulating for some but disconcerting for others.

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