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Of the keyboard works composed during the classical period, the over 60 or so sonatas of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) stand proud. While Beethoven’s 32 sonatas were defined by his personal angst and Mozart’s 18 by his elegance, Haydn was distinguished by his wit and humour, often appearing in unexpected guises. In Volume 1 of a projected cycle, young Japanese pianist Hiroaki Takenouchi surveys four relatively unfamiliar sonatas, composed between 1774 and 1780, while the Austrian master was still an employee as a court musician of Count Esterhazy. Perhaps the least obscure is the D major sonata (No.37), the opening theme of which was itself a subject of parody in Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto. The C major sonata (No.21) is lit up by cheery outer movements, while the E flat major sonata (No.25), with symphonic pretensions in its first movement, looks forward to the “large” sonata (No.52, to come in a later instalment) in the same key. The G major sonata (No.39) is arguably the greatest of the foursome, something which may have influenced the young Beethoven. Takenouchi’s crisp and lightly articulated touch serves these minor masterpieces well, capturing their free spirited musings with much eloquence. Further volumes are keenly anticipated. —Chang Tou Liang
(December 2014)