HAYDN Piano Sonatas (Kristian Bezuidenhout)
There’s a strange feeling of something like alienation or distance at the outset of Kristian Bezuidenhout’s Haydn recital. Perhaps it’s because he opens with the uneasy sound world of the C minor Sonata (No 20) rather than one of the composer’s more upbeat keyboard pieces. The sensation is only fleeting, however, and soon the listener is drawn in by the myriad subtleties of Bezuidenhout’s playing and by the glorious sounds he draws from his instrument – by the doyen of historical instrument makers, Paul McNulty, based on an Anton Walter (Vienna) from the end of Haydn’s life. Soon you’re hanging on every note of this sequence that seems to travel from darkness to darkness, closing with the F minor Variations – the Piccolo divertimento that is anything but piccolo.
The rarefied opening of the C minor Sonata seems to be not quite of this world until the texture thickens and the full range of the instrument is revealed. The bass especially, although used sparely in this music, has both clarity and ‘grunt’, able to punctuate when required but never becoming muddy in left-hand chords. Quiet playing draws a gentle veil over the sound, while the damper pedal extends the repertoire of soft tones available – and never becomes an effect for its own sake when used as judiciously as here.
Most important, though, is Bezuidenhout’s playing itself. Technique is obviously not an issue: arpeggios spray notes like Eszterháza fountains; Haydn’s triplet accompaniments are never simply ‘typed’ but come alive with gradations of pressure that always seem instinctive rather than simply applied. Decoration, too, is sparing rather than trowelled on. This is the very opposite of ‘look-at me’ pianism.
There is the merest hint of action noise and the pianist’s breathing is faintly audible (most noticeably on headphones). But why not? The fortepiano is an instrument with inherent limitations, within which Haydn and his players had to work, and this is living and breathing music. You’re left in no doubt of that by the end of this compelling, tantalising recital. Those allergic to period pianos will cleave to Bavouzet (Chandos) among current Haydn cycles. Others will find Bezuidenhout a mesmerising guide to the composer’s keyboard world.