Sonata in C sharp minor [Landon 49 / Hoboken 36]
Sonata in G minor [Landon 32 / Hoboken 44]
Sonata in E flat [Landon 59 / Hoboken 49]
Sonata in E flat [Landon 62 / Hoboken 52]
John Lill (piano)
Recorded 18 & 19 April 2000 in Tsuen Wen Town Hall, Hong Kong
Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson
Reviewed: May 2007
CD No: SIGNUM SIGCD 097
Duration: 76 minutes
John Lill’s approach to Haydn’s piano sonatas stresses forward motion and fluidity. Naturally, performances on the modern piano can be compared with the remarkable complete set made for Decca in the mid-1970s in the lovely acoustic of All Saints Church, Petersham. Immediately it becomes clear how it is possible to approach these works from contrasting viewpoints while still putting over the composer’s intentions with equal success. John McCabe’s comprehensive survey is something of a benchmark and achieved huge critical acclaim at the time. The contrast is simple: McCabe is powerful and is often very expressive in the more dramatic sequences. Lill takes a cooler approach. In terms of tempo he often employs elegant swiftness but is not above using solemnity and weight – as in his expansive reading of the concluding Minuet and Trio of Sonata No.49.
Incidentally the listing of the works in the booklet sensibly uses Christa Landon’s chronological numbering (the familiar Hoboken numbers are misleading).
All the sonatas recorded here are fairly late, so the discussion of whether the early works are better suited to harpsichord is not relevant. Lill’s piano is attractively bright and even-toned and eminently suited to the pianist’s direct style. This subtle brilliance is particularly successful in the opening movement of No.62 – Haydn’s final sonata – the strange silences and fragmentary phrases are all beautifully incorporated without interrupting the flow of the music.
Lill’s technique invites comparison with those modern musicians who avoid the heavy emphases favoured by pianists of half a century ago – but it is worth remembering that, as the booklet notes point out, Lill’s career has already lasted that length of time. One characteristic which pianists of former days employed is evident however: when full chords are played, Lill tends slightly to spread the attack permitting one hand to descend a millisecond before the other. Once upon a time this method was used frequently and usually more exaggeratedly but here the result is simply to soften the aggression that a solid attack of chords might have engendered.
The sound is warm and the piano’s tone captured with colourful clarity. I regard this as a tribute to Lill’s superb technique. For brilliant showers of perfectly placed notes in a context of fiery rapidity try the finale of Sonata No.62 or, better still, attend to this well-chosen programme (long delayed in issue due to the original company ‘going under’) from beginning to end thus leaving this final bout of brilliance in the mind.