Piano Sonatas Nos. 32, 40, 49, 50
Paul Lewis, piano
Harmonia Mundi, 2018
The compositions that Franz Joseph Haydn wrote for his favourite instrument, the keyboard, are countless and varied. Among them, there are concertos, concertini, divertimenti and variations, but the sonatas are the most important ones. Many of these works were composed for connoisseurs and usually dedicated to women. In fact, at that time the keyboard was the instrument preferred by ladies of noble descent. Some of them consequently became outstanding virtuose, as in the case of Haydn’s patroness Marie Hermenegild von Esterházy, to whom the composer dedicated his piano sonatas Hob. XVI:40-42.
In the present recording, world-class pianist Paul Lewis performs four of Haydn’s Piano Sonatas (Nos. 32, 40, 49, 50) with accomplished style and refinement.
Paul Lewis and Haydn’s Piano Sonatas
This is one of those recordings where the old-world salon elegance and magnificence appear in all its splendour. Paul Lewis is a classy pianist who knows how to place his technical brilliance at the service of music. His dynamics and colours are among the best imaginable and characterize Haydn’s music with precious nuances and vibrancy. In this regard, the Allegro moderato from the Sonata in B Minor (No. 32) is a little gem for its varied timbral qualities and shading and the alternation between piani and forti further embellish the performance.
Furthermore, the Sonatas seem really to come to life under Lewis’s fingers, independently from the fact that they are lively pieces as the Allegro from the Sonata in E flat major (No. 49) with its quite exuberant spirit, or thoughtful ones as the Adagio from the Sonata in C Major (No. 50), which is almost contemplative in its mood. The Sonatas share crystalline, silvery colours that so effectively adorn them, giving prominence to their implicit gaiety.
In addition to all this, one of the best features of Lewis’s performance is its fluidity. The music always flows with grace and transparency and in the Sonata in G Major (No. 40) it is particularly magnificent. Here, it assumes the traits of fleet-fingered enthusiasm, gentle and naive in the Allegretto innocente and virtuosic and sparkling in the Presto. Lewis’s lightness and skilfully expressive playing are features that really impress the listener, as in the case of the Adagio cantabile of the Sonata in E flat major.
As in all the best performances of whatever kind of music, Paul Lewis’s recording of Haydn’s Piano Sonatas reveals insight and technical finish despite the lightness of the works themselves. As a result, the most demanding passages are resolved without apparent effort and with the most lustrous tone. Shimmering colours and commitment are therefore two equally important aspects of an album which is a continuous delight for the ears.