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Gottlieb Wallisch - Haydn: The London Sonatas - International Record Review

26 August 2014
International Record Review
Michael Jameson

That Haydn's second London sojourn in 1794-95 brought his mastery of the classical symphony to its ultimate perfection and grandeur hardly needs mention here. But no less astounding were the last of his 62 keyboard sonatas. Haydn's 'London' Sonatas comprise the final three such works (Sonata No. 59 in E flat, Hob. XVI/49, also heard here, was written five years earlier in Esterhaza) listed by Anthony von Hoboken in his authoritative catalogue, and the innovation and originality of these still often neglected works cannot be underestimated.

So for anyone who for common-sense reasons of thrift would prefer to have the 'London' Sonatas on a single disc, or perhaps for those collectors still to dip a toe into the world of Haydn's keyboard music, this outstanding new release from Linn will have immediate appeal.

Latest in an impressive line-up of pianists to set down Haydn's late sonatas is the Viennese virtuoso Gottlieb Wallisch, whose translucent pianism, compelling intellectual disposition and unforced empathy with classical semantics might lead some to tip him as a natural successor to Alfred Brendel, at least in the music of the Viennese masters. In every respect, Wallisch's newly minted, muscular and insightful accounts have a tremendous amount in their favour, making this one of only a handful of new releases to have afforded incontestable listening pleasure so far in 2014.

During his first stay in London in 1791, Haydn met the piano maker John Broadwood, who gave him composing space in his shop. This allowed Haydn to evaluate fully the tonal potentialities of Broadwood' s new instruments, whose greater sustaining power and enlarged compass undoubtedly influenced the final sonatas. Interestingly, all three were written for female acquaintances, fine pianists in their own right, which fact undoubtedly ascribed personal meaning to Haydn's task, as evidenced by the consolatory style and melodic refinement of the slow movements.

Wallisch gives hugely effective readings of the serene Adagios of Sonatas Nos. 60 and 62, and the sheen and allure of his playing brings moments of hushed expressive intimacy. Seldom does he plumb the depths with Brendel's seriousness of intent, but the degree of light and shade in these accounts is always appealing, and I greatly enjoyed the capering final Presto of Sonata No. 62, and the brief but explosive finale of its D major predecessor.

Wallisch is tremendously adept in the great E flat major Sonata No. 62, with playing that's wonderfully responsive and attuned to the mannerisms and decorum of the piece, and is at his best in the F minor Andante with Variations, Hob. XVII/6, its nostalgic atmosphere probably a response to the death in 1793 of another of Haydn's female confidantes, Marianne von Genzinger...I shall be returning to these splendid Haydn offerings from Wallisch, who has contributed his own admirable booklet notes, often and with pleasure, for these outstanding recordings are in every way self-recommending.

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