Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Making Haydn Luminescent

As my regular readers know only too well, I am a big Haydn fan. On this blog I did a long series of posts on a wide selection of Haydn symphonies. Here are a couple. I am also a big fan of his string quartets, but have done relatively few posts on them. Here is one that forms the first part of a four-part series. Haydn also wrote a great deal of other chamber music, such as his piano trios, and, in his role as director of the Esterházy opera house, also wrote quite a few operas, which are not very well known. His piano sonatas, however, are quite often played and some of them are very fine. But I have never explored them to any extent. If I were a pianist I would know them, I'm sure, but as a guitarist, they never quite caught my attention. The other day, though, I heard a performance that made me want to have a look.

That was Grigory Sokolov in a concert performance of the Sonata Hob.XVI:23 in F major. 2002 was a good year to be attending Sokolov concerts if you were a Haydn fan. He seems to have had three different Haydn sonatas in his touring program that year. Here is the Sonata Hob.XVI:34 in E minor:

And the Sonata Hob.XVI:37 in D major:

Here is another recording of the same three sonatas in a different concert from March 2002:

As you can hear, these performances are different in interesting ways. The tempi are subtly different, as are the articulations and the dynamic scheme. A lot of touring virtuosos deliver exactly the same performance in every concert. This is the safer course, but it is aesthetically less satisfactory because there is a significant element of mechanical reproduction--that's the problem with audio recordings, too. But Sokolov, dedicated to the live performance, and one that is, on this evidence, truly live in that each performance is a bringing to life of a musical entity, not just finger-spinning, does not take the safe course of just delivering a technically sound performance, but instead gives us a transcendent and luminescent one.

As Donald Francis Tovey claimed, Haydn is really one of the most important composers in music history, but rarely honored as such.

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