Hans Richter-Haaser = MOZART: Piano Sonata in D Major; Piano Sonata in F Major/Rondo ; BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 16 in G Major; HAYDN: Piano Sonata No. 59 – Hans Richter-Haaser, p. – MeloClassic

Hans Richter-Haaser = MOZART: Piano Sonata in D Major, K. 284; Piano Sonata in F Major, K. 533/Rondo, K. 494 ; BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 16 in G Major, Op. 31, No. 1; HAYDN: Piano Sonata No. 59 in E-flat Major – Hans Richter-Haaser, p. – MeloClassic MC 1002, 73:36 (2014) [www.meloclassic.com] ****:

Connoisseurs of great keyboard playing would likely agree that the career of Dresden-born virtuoso Hans Richter-Haaser (1912-1980) suffered overshadowing by those of interpreters born in the narrow generation just prior, like Kempff, Gieseking, Erdmann, and Backhaus. MeloClassic resurrects two studio recitals, 1950 and 1959, from Hessian Radio archives that remind us of the strong suits in Richter-Haaser’s playing, his classical clarity and aristocratic, poised sense of architecture. We recall that Karajan chose Richter-Haaser for an inscription of the Brahms B-flat Concerto, and that he accompanied cellist Ludwig Hoelscher for a series of inscriptions from the Ludwigsburger Festival, in June of 1951 and 1958.

Richter-Haaser opens with a sustained and lyrical reading of Mozart’s 1775  Piano Sonata in D Major, K. 284 (30 December 1950), whose last movement presents one of the largest examples of a theme and (twelve) variations. The work clearly meant to display the composer’s singular virtuosity; and even the Polonaise – Andante middle movement presents variants upon the reiteration of its theme. In the penultimate variation of movement three, Richter-Haaser provides us a sustained alla musette, a rarified music-box sonority that stands in stark contrast to the bold, hard patina that offers brisk and pungent runs to a brilliantly-capped coda.  

Mozart assembled his Sonata in F from two parts that had been composed at different times. The Rondo K. 494 dates from 1786. Mozart obviously studied scores by Bach and Handel to illuminate his finished product with fugal passages, especially in the finale, in order to align the music with the counterpoints of the earlier movements. In January 1788 Mozart composed the two pieces K. 533 and had Hoffmeister in Vienna publish the three movements as a sonata. Richter maintains an airy but driven pulse for the Allegro, its canons generating their own tensile strength. The subtle colors Richter-Haaser invokes depend on the remote keys Mozart introduces rather casually. The Andante becomes a study in tragic resignation, its passing dissonances detectable as early as measure 2. For intricacy of arch form in a tragic mode, the movement competes with the Rondo in A Minor, K. 511. Richter Haaser, here in the same Frankfurt program that offered the opening D Major Sonata, plays with fixed resolution and virile intimacy. His bass line proves especially pungent.  The Rondo: Andante plays like a brilliant mechanical clock, but somewhat lacking the dire tension marking the first two movements. An F Minor cadenza extends the dramatic contrast, here in a movement over which Richter-Haaser exerts artful control.

Richter-Haaser engages (7 October 1959) Beethoven’s 1802 G Major Sonata, Op. 31, No. 1 with a robust sense of its ironies, particularly in the first movement, an Allegro vivace in which the two hands seem to collide or frustrate each other. The sudden contrasts in dynamics and in runs and meditations add to the eccentric, witty character of the piece. Even among the frothy roulades, intense moments of polyphony, and jumpy syncopes, Richter-Haaser maintains a poise and dignity of affect eminently palpable. The Adagio grazioso serves as a display piece for roulades, ornaments, trills, and competitive scalar runs. Its middle section sounds like a preparatory etude for the later Waldstein Sonata. The sonata-rondo last movement receives a bravura treatment from Richter-Haaser, who maintains a potent, plastic tension amidst a host of triplets that dominate the sometimes martial progressions that invade this otherwise coy series of slaps at keyboard conventions.

Richter-Haaser concludes his 7 October recital with Haydn’s 1798 Sonata No. 59 in E-flat Major, a virtuoso work that gravitates between emotional nonchalance and great intimacy, its Adagio e cantabile’s having a special significance for the composer. The four-note opening motto of the Allegro will certainly resonate with Beethoven as a source for possible exploitation. Everything about Richter-Haaser’s pliant technique testifies to a serenity of expression that no daunting fioritura can dispel. The central movement exploits the crossing of the hands while moving to an “emotional” episode in B-flat Minor. Haydn fuses his rondo style to a Tempo di minuetto that reverberates – in the first of two episodes – with the first movement motto but in a thoroughly relaxed manner, especially from Richter-Haaser’s music box. The second episode moves to a rare key, that of E-flat Minor. The influx of keyboard colors has revealed Haydn ever more convincingly as a master of a galant style capable of great expressive power.

—Gary Lemco

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