HAYDN; MOZART Piano Sonatas (Jerome Hantaï)
It may be that Jérôme Hantaï is better known to the greater musical public as a distinguished viola da gamba player. However, for those familiar with his recordings of Haydn’s piano trios (Naïve) and sonatas (Ambroisie), both difficult to find these days, this new Mirare release of sonatas by Haydn and Mozart will not be a surprise. In fact, some may wonder why we have had to wait so long for more of Hantaï’s lucid, imaginative fortepiano-playing. Here he uses an anonymous and undated antique which incorporates many of the emergent south German innovations of Andreas Stein, stunningly restored in the workshop of Christopher Clarke.
From the first bars of Mozart’s F major Sonata, K332, it is clear that Hantaï inhabits every square inch of this musical edifice lovingly and with delight, his expressive gestures informed by the most progressive contemporary thinking about late 18th-century Viennese style. There is no straining after effect, no crawling out on limbs in pursuit of an individual statement; instead we hear solid music-making that sings or dances as the context requires, delivered with unimpeachable technique, all of it deliciously entertaining. The vivid orchestral character of K332 is also sustained in the earlier E flat Sonata, K282, with its soulful opening Adagio. Every detail of articulation and emphasis is scrupulously realised, so that Mozart’s rhetoric seems to flow from Hantaï’s fingers unimpeded. There are also moments when you are suddenly gripped with the sheer beauty of the instrument’s sound.
In keeping with the disc’s historical parameters, the earliest Haydn sonata is from 1773 and the latest from 1783. It’s hard to resist a smile amid the cordial joviality of the C major Sonata’s Allegro, with its playfully jaunty dotted rhythms. Following the Adagio’s tender scena, Haydn’s inexhaustible imagination produces a seamless Presto finale of unalloyed joy. In the F major Sonata, Hantaï’s rhythmic acuity perfectly captures the mock pomposity of the opening Moderato. The wealth and variety of brilliant textures that pervade the E flat Sonata are temporarily suspended by the heart-stopping tragic poise of its Adagio. This is Haydn-playing on an exalted artistic level. Haydn’s wit, sans slapstick pratfalls or meringue pies in the face, is revealed in all its sublime drollery, yet with his fundamental seriousness of purpose always in view.
From its compelling programme, arranged as a master chef might present a series of courses, to the characteristic sound of an interesting instrument beautifully captured, to the intelligent performances which, for all their cultivated learnedness, speak with a disarming naturalness and simplicity, this is surely among the most satisfying discs I’ve encountered this year. Please, don’t miss it!