The Acclaimed Haydn Recordings

Oct 21, 1998 at 12:00 am

The keyboard music of Haydn not only doesn't get any respect, it's virtually ignored. Granted, it isn't on the same level as his symphonies, masses or even his chamber music, but there is great purity and uncluttered, classical structure in his sonatas that often go unacknowledged. This marvelous reissue by Ivory proves that, in the right hands, a cogent case can be made for the strength and validity of Haydn's piano music. Originally recorded between 1955 and 1958 on Westminster, this two-CD set is spilling over with charm.

Russian pianist Nadia Reisenberg (1904-1983) isn't much remembered today, and even in her heyday she wasn't a huge name because she often championed neglected music. Her musical pedigree was rock-solid, having studied with the great virtuoso Josef Hofmann. She credits him with teaching her "beautiful, sensitive pedaling." That skill is in evidence in every measure on this disc; her pedaling is economical but effective. Reisenberg pedals just enough to sustain a singing tone without blurring Haydn's immensely clean, cultivated lines.

Her overall playing is finely etched with a rococo grace that's elegant but unstuffy. There's a childlike playfulness at work as well that keeps her program buoyant. The sunny Sonata No. 13 in G is infused with rhythmic pliancy and giddy spirits. Haydn's most famous sonata, No. 62, is performed with noble grandeur, while the Fantasia in C Major is played with fleet-fingered insouciance. Reisenberg brings drama to the Sonata No. 53 in E Minor while keeping its exquisitely sculpted shape intact.

There are times when some of this music fails to impress, but Haydn's untroubled, rosy world is brought to vivid life by this most persuasive and eager exponent.