Whenever I hear Haydn’s piano music played well, I want to rush to my piano to play it myself. Such was the effect of listening to Leon McCawley‘s new ‘Sonatas and Variations’ disc on the Somm label. Haydn’s piano music is not performed enough, in my humble opinion, so it is a pleasure to have a recording of such quality to enjoy.
A brace each of sonatas in major and minor keys, these works have long been part of McCawley’s concert repertoire, and this shows in his deft and insightful handling of articulation, dynamics and Haydn’s rapid changes of mood. Nothing feels forced nor contrived, and there’s wit and humour aplenty, especially in the C major Sonata (No. 60, Hob. XVI/50) which shows Haydn (and McCawley) thoroughly enjoying his mastery of the instrument and its capabilities. McCawley brings elegance and spaciousness to the slow movements, revealing fine details of inner voices. Haydn’s final piano sonata, No. 62 in E flat Hob. XVI/52, which unlike the last sonatas of Beethoven and Schubert was composed some 15 years before Haydn died, rather than at the end of his life, combines grandeur and exuberance in its opening movement, while the slow movement has a stately nobility. The finale is a lively romp, but despite the rapid tempo, there is never any loss of detail or precision.
The F minor Variations are a delight, at once melancholy and wistful in the minor variations, and gracious, playful and warm in the major ones. Interior details are highlighted and a sense of the overall architecture and narrative of the work is clear. And I am pleased to note that McCawley observes all the repeats, which turns this work into something enjoyably substantial. Throughout there is tasteful pedalling and the piano has a lovely clarity, perfect for this music.
No. 53 in E minor
No. 60 in C major,
No. 33 in C minor
No. 62 in E flat major
Variations in F minor Hob. HVII/6
Leon McCawley, Piano