Joanna Leach is now in her early sixties and one wonders where her career has gone. She studied with Peter Katin the doyen and most brilliant of British pianists of the last 50 years. She is an accomplished player and her choice of tempi is to be admired. The Variations of 1793 is one of Haydn’s most popular works and it is played here with a compelling sense of continuity and a classical beauty that is missing from performances by more famous names. The C major Sonata has an elegance and charm of its very own and is a very rewarding piece to play. Ms Leach’s tempi and choice of ornaments is very convincing. I have never felt that Haydn’s finale here works – a minuet in an allegro tempo – particularly when you consider Haydn’s brilliant finales. The finale of the next sonata is also a minuet, although a more conventional one.
The Sonata in E flat is of historical interest since it was written for Maria Anna von Gensinger, the wife of the physician to Prince Esterhazy. Haydn had a close friendship with her and when she died in 1793 the Variations were composed. She was a good pianist and this sonata is introspective; it is a conversational piece and is almost operatic in style. It is a very personal and mature work. The slow movement is akin to a soprano aria which may reveal Haydn’s feelings for Maria Anna. It is a fine piece, both peaceful and lovely with a tender yearning on the one hand and high drama in the minor key on the other. It is rather too florid and decorated for some tastes. While I do not wish to enter the arena to debate musical authenticity I feel that this rather special sonata fares better on a modern instrument as it will heighten the drama and have a wider range of tone. The heartbeats at the end of this movement say it all. The concluding minuet might suggest Haydn wanting to dance it with Maria Anna and enjoy her closeness. The two-part writing hints at two people in private.
The Sonata in C minor, like the Sonata in C, was written for Katharina and Marianna Auenbrugger, two sisters who were pianists. The C minor is a dark work and abounds in character and quality. The slow movement is far too ornamented for my taste but that is what Haydn wanted. Nevertheless, it contains a beautifully thoughtful main theme. Again, Jo Leach plays it in a direct manner and does not allow it to become sweet or sickly. The finale is restless and has more of a hint of tragedy in it. And I am left wondering about what Haydn’s real feelings were for Maria Anna and the Auenbrugger sisters.
The performances are thoughtful and reliable and it has proved to cause me to cogitate which must indicate Jo Leach’s expert skill in communication. Performances **** Recording ***