Alain Planès

Haydn: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2: The Late Sonatas

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The best thing about this set of late Haydn sonatas by French pianist Alain Planès (or Planes -- the cover and the spine of this album don't agree) is the program: Haydn's late piano sonatas are often paired with earlier works, but they are best approached as a discrete group. They have a great deal to do with Beethoven's early style (as much as it pained Beethoven to admit it), and they can be played profitably in the highly pianistic style Planès uses here. He offers a very wide dynamic range; the mysterious open fifths and sevenths of the opening movement of the Piano Sonata No. 60 in C major, Hob. 16/50, for example, are taken down to a level of which Haydn's English fortepianos wouldn't have been remotely capable. The trouble is that Planès' very dramatic effects don't always make sense within Haydn's world. For all the striking ways in which the composer exploited the capabilities of the new instrument, the late sonatas are generally humorous works that turn on carefully calibrated balances among the parts of a movement, and these get lost in Planès' accounts. He's at his best in very atmospheric pieces such as the unexpected E major central movement of the Piano Sonata No. 62 in E flat major, Hob. 16/52, but the opening matter of the first movement of the same sonata has an odd clipped quality that robs the music of its momentum and obscures the subtlety of Haydn's motivic manipulations. These are idiosyncratic Haydn readings, and it may be that for some listeners they'll click solidly, critical opinions of Planès are all over the map. But he has been lately known as a specialist in the music of Boulez and Stockhausen, not composers for whom "humor" would come to mind as the first descriptor as it should for Haydn. There's a set of abstract procedures going on in many parts of these sonatas that's often at odds with the flow of the music.

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