Joseph Haydn: Piano Sonatas Nos. 20, 34, 51 & 52

Paul Lewis

(CD - Harmonia Mundi #HMM 902372)

Review by James Manheim

The playing of Paul Lewis is probing, structurally insightful, and detailed. These are all qualities associated with the performances of Lewis' mentor, Alfred Brendel, and while both musicians are highly regarded for their Beethoven interpretations, there are other, more public-facing and immediately crowd-pleasing ways to go with Beethoven. Lewis' ongoing cycle of Haydn's sonatas, however, plays absolutely to his strengths. This is the second entry in the group, and it contains one absolutely marvelous performance that is destined to become a standard, that of the Piano Sonata in C minor, Hob. 16/20. In this middle-period sonata, which may originally have been conceived for harpsichord, Lewis gives an almost palpable sense of Haydn's growing sense of the harmonic-motivic profundities of the piano sonata. His reading captures the unexpected developments that appear at every turn, and it's full of the sly, delicate humor at which Lewis excels. The other sonatas also receive strong performances, and Lewis never imposes a single "style" on Haydn. In the Piano Sonata in E minor, Hob. 16/34, and especially the late Piano Sonata in E flat major, Hob. 16/52, he emphasizes the excitement that the deepening of piano sonority held at the time; these are big, virtuoso, Beethovenian performances. Lewis returns to a subtler mode in the almost Schubertian Piano Sonata in D major, Hob. 16/51, for a balanced finale. With excellent Teldex Studio sound reflecting Lewis' every move, this is an absorbing Haydn release that invites multiple hearings.

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