HAYDN: The Piano Sonatas
Ekaterina Derzhavina’s name was new to me, but this 9-CD set of Haydn’s complete piano sonatas should broaden her recognition considerably. Her playing is elegant, stylish, and above all imaginative, showing just how creative the composer was in a genre for which he is rarely celebrated. Derzhavina plays a modern piano but uses little pedal, so her performances come off as neat and self-contained but with plenty of room to grow more extroverted as Haydn’s sense of humor and unusual structural gambits demand.
In fact, one comes away from these performances appreciating how little of a fixed pattern there was for Haydn’s sonatas. In contrast to the string quartet and symphony — templates that Haydn all but invented — there were few formal constraints on these pieces. They could start, or end, with slow movements, or have none at all. A sonata could begin or end with a minuet and trio, a form almost always reserved for the inner movements of a symphony. In writing for a single performer, Haydn seemed to relish his freedom to experiment.
All this comes through delightfully in Derzhavina’s playing. Not surprisingly, since she plays all the sonatas, you can find better performances of some individual pieces, especially the later ones. But viewed as a survey of the entire corpus, her feel for Haydn’s originality comes through brilliantly.
DAVID WEININGERDavid Weininger can be reached at email@example.com.