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Haydn: Sonatas, Vol. 2 / John O'Conor

Release Date: 11/01/2019
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30110
Composer:  Franz Joseph Haydn Performer:  John O'Conor

The celebrated artistry of pianist John O'Conor returns to the Steinway label with the second volume of a continuing series of Sonatas by Haydn. John O'Conor has been gathering wonderful reviews for his masterly playing for over forty years.

R E V I E W S:

Celebrated for his characterful, refined interpretations of Beethoven, Schubert and – rather notably – John Ireland, Irish pianist John O’Conor has recently ventured into the 52 sonata-strong catalogue of Franz Joseph Haydn. The second in a projected series of such recordings with Steinway & Sons, this most recent release generally features late sonatas, varied in their formal structures yet irresistible in their innovations. O’Conor brings his customary
Read more warmth and tasteful approach to these classical essays: quirky, unexpected works at a good distance from the tautly balanced sonatas of Mozart and Schubert.

Haydn’s experiments in the genre offer a wide spectrum of musical personality. They brush boisterously with folk idioms of the 18th century, skewing phrasing and lyrical gesture in a ribald quest of mirth and merriment. Their slightly rough-and-tumble profile is not always captured by O’Conor. He appears to prize refined voicing and sculpted colour over a bit of pianistic fun. (Once in a while however, he does let himself loose amongst this music’s rustic urgings.) Despite the craft and polish, one detects a faint lack of familiarity with these works; figures and flourishes sound half-hearted, almost glossed over.

It is in the slow movements on this record where O’Conor sounds most at home. He brings a sincerity to Haydn’s melodic lines born of an intimate, semplice mode of expression. O’Conor’s ear for colouristic subtlety delivers harmonic poise and vocal nuance, begetting interpretations that would surely have made the old Austrian composer smile.

-- Adam Sherkin, The Whole Note

...Today, Haydn’s piano sonatas require something very different from what Beethoven’s are accorded automatically: respect. That is, in modern times, what they especially need is not to be regarded as unimportant or as throwaways – which is how they tend to be seen when compared with Beethoven’s or, for that matter, Mozart’s (and even Mozart’s do not always get the respect they deserve). A Steinway & Sons release featuring five Haydn sonatas played by John O’Conor is an unalloyed pleasure because it handles these works exactly as they should be handled, treating them as unassuming but not naïve, and showing how they share the poise, balance, delicacy and (frequently) humor that are characteristic of so much of Haydn’s music. The unusual tempo marking of the first movement of the two-movement Piano Sonata No. 54 can almost stand for a foundational approach to Haydn’s sonatas in general: Allegro Innocente. There is a straightforwardness to these sonatas that can make it difficult to remember exactly which pleasure comes from which work (Vivaldi’s concertos have a similar issue); but as O’Conor shows, what matters is the sheer amount of pleasure in all the sonatas, even though they (again like Vivaldi’s concertos) have mostly the same structure. Indeed, aside from the two-movement No. 54, the sonatas O’Conor offers all have a fast-slow-fast arrangement, with all the middle movements marked Adagio. But details matter in Haydn, and it is no accident that the longest single movement in any of these five sonatas is the central one of No. 59, which is the only movement in which the word Adagio comes with a qualifier: e Cantabile. O’Conor is so well attuned to Haydn’s sonata design and structure that he manages to bring out the singing quality of this movement without in any way pushing the music beyond the strict Classical boundaries to which Haydn always adhered. All the performances here are equally impressive. The five sonatas are all in major keys: No. 48 in C, No. 50 in D, No. 54 in G, No. 59 in E-flat, and No. 60 in C. But just as in his major-key symphonies, Haydn expertly dips the music into the minor from time to time, always appropriately and tastefully, hinting at slightly more inward-looking material without ever turning the atmosphere significantly darker. O’Conor’s pianistic delicacy – even on a modern concert grand, which is decidedly not the historically correct instrument for this music – keeps the sonatas in the realm of elegance and, in general, stateliness; but Haydn’s sparkle and occasional puckishness come through as well, just as in his other works, and O’Conor’s skill at eliciting them is just one of this recording’s many pleasures... Read less