HAYDN: Piano Sonata No. 59; Piano Sonata No. 39; Piano Sonata No. 47; Piano Sonata No. 39 – Denis Kozhukhin, p. – Onyx

HAYDN: Piano Sonata No. 59 in E-flat Major; Piano Sonata No. 39 in F Major; Piano Sonata No. 47 in B Minor; Piano Sonata No. 39 in D Major – Denis Kozhukhin, p. – Onyx 4118, 52:14 (10/14/14) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Denis Kozhukhin (b. 1986) made a superlative impression on us in San Jose recently, having appeared as part of the Steinway Society the Bay Area series of concerts, in which Haydn played no small part of his recital. This winner of the Queen Elisabeth Competition takes his Haydn seriously, especially in Haydn’s relation to his natural successor, Beethoven. Kozhukhin’s four selections on this fine disc (rec. 6-8 January 2014) testify to Haydn’s evolution from a purveyor of the galant and rococo styles to his more “emotional” sensibilities in the manner of C.P.E. Bach that found their way into a burgeoning Romantic movement.

Kozhukhin opens with a late sonata, the E-flat Major No. 59 (1789), whose Allegro reveals a contentious affect that Haydn develops as a sonata-allegro that would clearly inspire Beethoven. Originally set in two movements, the updated edition bears a moving, expansive Adagio e cantabile dedicated to Maria Anna von Genzinger, a possible inamorata of the composer. The plaintive, often dark, chromatic line hints at poignant feelings touched by a sense of melancholy.  In two sections, the second half dips into the bass line suddenly, closer to the later Schumann in effect than Beethoven, despite the academic arpeggios of the left hand.  The Finale: Tempo di Menuet relieves the dark humor to a degree, insofar as the middle section in E-flat Minor will permit. Kozhukhin etches the main tune with a virile clarity that often belies its dance intention.

For dramatic juxtaposition, Kozhukhin next proffers the earliest of his selections, the Sonata in F Major No. 38 (1773).  Dedicated to Nikolaus Esterhazy, the piece bears something of a Biedermeier character, a salon composition for the gifted amateur. The delicately brisk Allegro with an Alberti bass becomes wayward in its traversals in the minor mode. Kozhukhin can apply the music-box sensibility at will, occasionally making the movement a bold toccata. The Adagio qualifies as a sarabande in F Minor.  Almost “oriental” in affect, the music seems to beckon to the oboe for instrumental realization. Kozhukhin’s sultry rendition justified the cost of admission.  A hard patina marks the closing Finale: Presto, a witty, slightly askew tune harmonized in double notes and syncopes, beautifully rendered.

The B Minor Sonata No. 47 (1776) dominates as the most far-reaching composition, embarking on a chromatic campaign – Allegro moderato –  that begins with Scarlatti and moves to Beethoven with the flick of the wrist. That Haydn embraces the sturm und drang sensibility never begs the question.  Acerbic and architecturally pointed, Kozhukhin’s playing totally mesmerizes our love of the keyboard palette.  Haydn marks his second movement Menuet (in B Major), and its initial, sweet grace disarms us after the opening movement. But the Trio section assumes a more aggressive character, again a model for the Bonn master who would utterly revolutionize the keyboard sonata. The Finale: Presto opens with staccato repeated notes, sforzati and running figures all of which testify to the bravura in Haydn’s deft, mature style. Kozhukhin negotiates the demanding shifts of texture and touch with seamless facility, brilliant and eminently arresting.

The D Major Sonata No. 39 (1773) falls into the “gifted-amateur” category, although its light figurations, Allegro, retain the airy sense of a demanding touch-piece. Of all the pieces in this ensemble, the D Major could most easily be attributed to “Parisian” Mozart. The ostinato figures enjoy an inventive character we credit to Scarlatti. The Adagio presents a pulsating left hand, over which an arioso evolves in the spirit of the Bach sons or even better, the esteemed father.  Another Finale: Presto ensues, this time wittily provocative, in syncopated triple meter that moves to antiphons in the registers in variation. Haydn delays the coda – once more in anticipation of a certain Beethoven – by placing the recap into wrong keys before granting us harmonic clemency.

—Gary Lemco

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