HAYDN: Piano Sonata No. 56 in D Major; Piano Sonata No. 50 in D Major; Piano Sonata No. 32 in G Minor; Piano Sonata No. 33 in C Minor – Andrew Rangell, piano – Bridge 9313, 68:17 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
The Haydn keyboard sonata extends over four decades, 1750-1795, and it embraces “divertimenti” and “partitas,” serving both pedagogical and virtuoso functions. The 1784 Sonata in D Major departs from the usual three-movement structure and offers an Andante con espressione and a Finale: Vivace assai. Typical of Haydn, he fuses a rondo form with an eight-bar theme and variations, set as a series of brilliant staccato halting phrases in the “emotional” style of C.P.E. Bach. As played on the Hamburg Steinway D, the music assumes a hard and cool patina, the phrases etched in adamantine. A clever codetta softens the affect, in the manner of the “The Joke” Quartet. The second movement anticipates Beethoven’s often askew humor, setting an eight-bar theme in steps and scales against a section that runs over 90 bars long. A canonic effect or two passes by in angular harmony, possibly an inspiration for Beethoven’s witty Op. 54.
The D Major Sonata of 1780 might be called “Trumpet” by virtue of its opening fanfare that soon gravitates to A Major for the exposition. Popular in the galant manner and deftly challenging to the performer to keep its perpetually moving feet light and his own wrists limber, it moves to the relative B Minor before jabbing and twisting around for the recap. The surprise comes in the brief but emotionally concentrated Largo e sostenuto, a baroque Sarabande or French overture in dotted rhythm. A Neapolitan sixth chord creates a misty cadence leading to the Finale: Presto, marked “Innocentemente” for its insouciant repetitions of an eight-bar phrase that wanders around only to find an Alberti bass. An etude in staccati and punctuated rhythms, the piece quite sparkles with delightful charm.
The two movement G Minor Sonata contains many Baroque idioms, not the least of which is its singularity of affect. The opening Moderato assumes a binary pattern, tripping in figures that suggest a fantasy in the manner of Byrd or Purcell. Given Rangell’s pointillistic approach, the entire experience recalls a Glenn Gould moment. The music meanders in bits and pieces, every detail “melodic” in a tapestry Beethoven would not attempt until his late sonatas. The triplets literally deconstruct or overlay each other, and the development dovetails into the recap without our knowing about it, except harmonically. The suspensions often suggest Rameau or Couperin. A cadenza of a sort appears, bits of canon, perhaps an allusion to medieval hocket as the tones of the triplet disintegrate. Quite an aural jewel, fascinating in its facets. The menuet is marked “Allegretto” but its affect is strictly beholden to C.P.E. Bach. The stripped down acoustics barely move in their sustained resignation. The sun comes through in G Major, momentarily. If this music could smile, it would belong to Giulietta Masina in Nights of Cabiria.
The huge C Minor Sonata establishes an emotional girth in the opening Moderato–with its three sections–that will provide Beethoven with musical grist for a lifetime. Stops and starts, sudden runs, a recitative, alterations of single-note dynamics, all make for an uneasy ride, exciting for its emotional unpredictability. The model would seem to be one of Bach’s minor key toccatas or an extended fantasia by C.P.E. Bach. Staccato versus legato phrases spin out in harmonic labyrinths, the eight-bar opening theme suffering every kind of transformation, the transitions trading places with the leading motif. Haydn’s chromatic use of arpeggios becomes stratified and thus both dramatic and eerie.
The walking bass line in the Andante con moto definitely creates an atavistic effect of a Baroque dance, the right hand repeating notes, the left hand executing a descending scale. The melodic tissue is once more a movable labyrinth, syncopated, polyphonic, meditative as suits it. Rangell applies dynamics ad libitum, as none is indicated in his edition. A nervous menuet in triple meter concludes this strongly individual sonata, the affect one of a rondo impelled by anxious energies. The light flashes darkly in a manner vaguely kin to Scarlatti, but the impulses in descending scales assume their own development beyond that composer’s means. Inspired performances by a pianist most likely bearing the digital and intellectual mantle of Glenn Gould.