Haydn by two

Haydn Sonata in C

Reading an interesting piece by pianist Alfred Brendel summing up his decades of making recordings, I noticed that he singled out a Haydn disc as one of his favorites. A particular delight for him was  Haydn’s Sonata in C major, Hob. 16/50. Given that I’m on a Haydn Sonata binge myself (but alas no Brendel), I thought I would check it out, quickly found the score on IMSLP and trotted through it. Brendel finds it funny, for me it’s the endless dazzling invention that engrosses, sometimes just a madcap throw away ornament or gesture.

Here is Brendel’s performance of the first movement, wonderful sleight of hand tricks at every turn, and dapper from first note to last. Overall, evinces such clarity of articulation and expression…something he was superb at and his student Paul Lewis is carrying on as a pianistic ideal.

For a contrast, listen to Sviatoslav Richter (the titan of the piano of my youth, and still a god to most classical pianists). Richter’s take on it is less droll, big sections rather than little detail. If Brendel illuminates Haydn the (merry) classical trickster, Richter gives us a Romantic and ardent Haydn, driving the same notes and (mostly the same) ornaments, a little faster and with more 19th century intensity.

Both are fine performances, and if I prefer Brendel’s (by a hair) that’s maybe because I love a good joke. Also Brendel’s playing has always had a human dimension that an amateur pianist (or at least this amateur pianist) can relate to. Richter, and others at his level, seem to be engaged in a completely different activity!

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