Paul Lewis – Haydn Piano Sonatas Vol 2: Nos. 20, 34, 51, 52 – Harmonia mundi

by | Jan 31, 2022 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

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HAYDN: Piano Sonata No. 20 in C Minor; Piano Sonata No. 52 in E-flat Major; Piano Sonata No. 34 in E Minor; Piano Sonata No. 51 in D Major – Paul Lewis, piano – Harmonia mundi HMM 902372 (7/8/21) 67:37 [Distr. by PIAS] ****:

British pianist Paul Lewis (b. 1972) has accrued a powerful reputation in the music of Beethoven and Schubert; here, in 2019, he turns to the impressive legacy of Franz Joseph Haydn’s piano sonatas, selecting four of dramatic character for this album.

Lewis opens with the expressive Sonata No. 20 in C Minor (1771; rev. 1780), composed expressly for two talented sisters, Katharina and Marianna von Auenbrugger, said to possess impressive technique at the keyboard. That the music may have been meant for the clavichord or double-manual harpsichord remains a matter of debate, since at the time no fortepiano were available in Vienna, and the rapid dynamic alterations had to rely upon an instrument capable of the required effects. The first movement, an expansive Moderato, already suggests in strong terms the virtues of the dedicatees, given the often brilliant filigree and emotional power this music exudes. Often suggestive of a fantasy by C.P.E. Bach and his emfindsamer stile, or “emotional style,” the opening, mournful tune exploits double thirds and sixths in the minor mode. The intensity extends into the development – which offers a fortissimo explosion – with constant shifts in the two hands to maintain the often polyphonic tensions.

Something of the Baroque sensibility informs the expansive second movement Andante con moto, which reveals the lyrical side of Lewis’ technical arsenal, given his volatile bravura in movement one. The cantabile melody over a moving bass manages to reach the high F, at the time the summit of the Baroque keyboard. This introspective music capitalizes on constant eighth note momentum, the addition of expressive trills and sudden softening of dynamic levels. This probing music wanders nearly four octaves in its expressive journey. The brief, passing dissonances add to the singular sonority Haydn has invented. The last movement, Finale: Allegro, returns, ¾, to an archaic sound in the home key, a sonata form’s pretending to be a brisk minuet. Lewis executes some pointed articulation in the progress of this music, with the hands crossing, and the left’s reaching a five-octave span. Haydn layers his effects in a most dense texture, once again close in spirit to a C.P.E. Bach fantasia. The periodic pauses in the progression invest a drama of their own. Lewis inserts passing ornaments to heighten the tension, and the result, a luminously dark and thrilling occasion, has accorded this Finale the justified price of admission. 

Lewis now turns to the last of Haydn’s sonatas, No. 52 in E-flat Major (1794), dedicated to both Magdalena von Kurzbeck (published score) and Therese Jansen (autograph score), an impressive piano virtuoso and student of Clementi whom Haydn had met in London. Chromatic and harmonically audacious, this last sonata seems to invoke the later spirit of Beethoven in its majestic tenor and its test of the English fortepiano of the period. The sheer volume of the writing – its chordal progressions and shifting textures – serves to bridge the genre of the solo piano medium with that of the string quartet and the symphony. Lewis’ first movement, buoyantly aggressive, moves with swift certitude. Despite the declamation in the opening motif, Lewis’ two hand in tandem produce in the secondary theme the quality of a musette, a music-box. Haydn then startles us all with a development in C Major, with the secondary tune’s appearance in E Major. The circuitous route back to the home key has beguiled all who engage this mature and canny sonata movement. 

Haydn prepared the listener for his E Major Adagio with that aforementioned development of the opening Allegro, thus effecting an unconventional source of unity in this work. The elaborate nature of the second movement melody divides into two sections, each part repeated. Again, Haydn makes an unusual modulation into C Major, another “echo” of movement one. The middle section exploits bass harmonies quite freely, in the manner of an improvisation. The waywardness.of the progression and the embellished periods seem an adumbration of Beethoven slow movements that grope for a melodic curve. The ornaments here lead Lewis to a brusque coda that ends the movement. The Finale: Presto takes the form of a contredanse with two, staccato false starts in E-flat and F Minor, respectively. On the third attempt the music overcomes its pregnant pauses to pit the alternate tonic and dominant harmonies in a floridly chromatic chase, Lewis’ realization
quite witty in character. The shape of the movement expands the usual rondo form into sonata-form, all the while maintaining the mirth of a master composer whose sense of form has been thoroughly ingrained with a lifetime of experience. 

The etiology Haydn’s Sonata No. 34 in E Minor remains vague, except for its publication in 1784. Its opening movement, Presto (in 6/8), is unique in Haydn. The opening movement builds upon fragments and quick runs, broken triads in the bass and responses in a higher register. The dialogue continues with more or less energy and emphasis, sometimes asking Lewis to play the fragments legato or with sudden, ominous power. The obsessive repetition and character of the dark, interrupted periods with their prolonged silences bear all the hallmarks of the sturm und drang sensibility of the era. The ensuing Adagio in G plays like an operatic aria, rife with 32nd notes garlanded in rococo style over a spare, chordal accompaniment. With a half cadence at the coda, Haydn moves into the E Minor of movement one and effects a smooth transition into his last movement, Vivace molto, a rondo marked “Innocentemente.” Haydn is being disingenuous, creating a double variation movement not far afield of plan for his Variations in F Minor: here, a motif in E Minor alternates with its phantom double in E Major. With each repeat the variations evolve a slight transformation, and Lewis keeps the whole moving and kaleidoscopic, at once.

Good nature and wit no less inform Haydn’s laconic Sonata No. 51 in D Major (1795), a two-movement lark with no slow movement. A marvelous synthesis of form is at work here, a compression that would no less influence Beethoven’s late period. The work does require less sheer bravura and so might have been intended for Haydn’s pupil and paramour, Rebecca Schroeter, who had studied with him during his first London tour, 1791-92. The opening movement, Andante (3/4), combines charm and clever keyboard effect in a smooth fabric of legato, cantabile, and briskly articulate lines. The figures rather tumble together in a gently satisfying mix to a calm coda. The last movement, Finale: Presto makes a gruff, impatient appearance and evolves with disarming harmonic audacity and sudden bravura. The melodic line sounds off-center and askew, moving with a will and intent of its own. The music slows and dissipates at the conclusion, leaving us to guess Haydn’s ulterior motives. Piano sound, courtesy of Tobias Lehmann, has been exemplary.

–Gary Lemco

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