Franz Josef HAYDN:  Piano Sonatas, Volume 2 — Anne-Marie McDermott, piano — Bridge 9497,  69:00, (5/27/18) ****1/2:

The love comes across in this recital of Haydn sonatas by an experienced artist

Anne-Marie McDermott presents four sonatas by Haydn in her second volume of his piano sonatas: numbers 48, 39, 46, and 37. I already knew McDermott for her technical abilities with fleeting fingers alongside her panache for crisp articulation. Despite my personal preference for a period piano and a chamber acoustic, this album presents an honest recital that’s chock full of love for this music by an experienced and capable artist.

Haydn would have known the earliest pianos and harpsichords as the keyboard instruments in his time. The modern piano offers a significantly wider dynamic range and more significant sound. The modern performer on the piano has decisions to make: do I limit my playing to limit the dynamic range and volume, or, perhaps, see what the modern instrument can offer the music?

McDermott takes the latter approach, employing the full capabilities of Yamaha’s top-tier concert grand to Haydn’s music. A profound example of this approach is the slow movement of the 37th sonata, marked Large e sostenuto.  Complete with the flourishes of, say, a French overture, McDermott lets the sonority of her piano sing and relishes in Haydn’s harmonic progression of embellished chords. The sustaining power of the modern piano, too, is tapped to fully realize the sostenuto called for in the opening indication. The finale is made from different cloth, starting polite and precise, and dynamically changing to employ the full force of the piano—all in good taste.

Portrait of Franz Joseph Haydn

Franz Joseph Haydn

The liner notes remind us that Haydn never felt he had virtuoso status on any one instrument. That is difficult to believe with the well-known 48th sonata. McDermott presents the second Presto movement with technical perfection. Her lightness of touch is captured in the acoustic afterglow, revealing not only her technical prowess, but her heart. She isn’t afraid to apply subtle rubato to capture the natural character of the phrasing, revealing Haydn’s tongue-in-cheek personality portraying humor, delight, and restrained breath-holding.

Haydn’s ability to take the simple and embellish is to into high art is on display in his A-flat sonata, #46. It’s less of the virtuosity of the instrument, but that of the pen, that we relish. McDermott’s ability leaves us without worry or concern: she seems so well connected to the music. In the development section of the same movement she maintains supreme control of the line, allowing the flirtation of notes in the melody to tickle us as the harmonies provide gravitas.

I am left with the belief that Ms. McDermott loves this music. Haydn makes it possible to maintain a laser focus on the music throughout these sonatas: his periods are not extremely long. Whether or not you play the album as a complete recital, or instead opt, as I have, for miniature sessions at one sonata per listen, there’s nothing left in wanting from this performance on modern piano.

A first class presentation.

—Sebastian Herrera