Haydn Piano Sonatas Vol. 3

Volume 3 of Bavouzet’s ‘postcard’ Haydn series

Author: 
Stephen Plaistow

Haydn Piano Sonatas Vol. 3

  • Sonata for Keyboard No. 29
  • Sonata for Keyboard No. 33
  • Sonata for Keyboard No. 42
  • Sonata for Keyboard No. 16 (Parthia)

If, like me, you have been badly missing Alfred Brendel in Haydn since his retirement, let us celebrate a special moment: Volume 3 of Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s Haydn project establishes him as a worthy successor. And better still, its scope is ambitious and is going to include many more sonatas than Brendel recorded, with each instalment arriving over the years, Bavouzet tells us, ‘like a postcard, despatched during my travels with scant respect for chronological considerations, but undertaken with the greatest passion for trying to convey to 21st-century ears the boundless treasures of this sublime music’.

I am out of sorts with the fortepiano at the moment, while admitting that this in-between instrument now has some fine practitioners. No, bring Haydn out from under the bell-jar and let him resound on the modern instrument. Nothing less, to my mind, is adequate for the C minor Sonata (HobXVI/20), which takes an honoured place here as the inspiration, indeed the fount, of classical piano sonatas in C minor to come – think of Mozart’s, Beethoven’s Op 10 No 1 and Schubert’s – as well as being one of Haydn’s best and perhaps also the first great sonata for the piano by anybody. Nothing of the interesting precursor about it in Bavouzet’s vividly characterised performance, which comes across as properly monumental and weighs in at nearly 26 minutes.

As before in the series, the linked questions of repeats and ornamentation have much occupied him. In his answers he has shown the courage of his convictions, and I have been delighted, as I hope others will be, not so much by the quantity of his decoration in ‘second’ repeats – which is not contentious – but by his much bolder decision to save the codettas (ie final bars) of some movements for second repeats only. In the finale of the C minor Sonata he is bolder still, taking his cue from Haydn’s unusual form-building and the high drama of the piano-writing: if I itemise his interpolation, at one unexpected point, of an unconventional cadenza that includes allusions to the previous movements, I’m sure I must anticipate some people’s concerned reaction. You can’t do that sort of thing in Haydn, can you? Yes you can, and perhaps you should. Do please listen to him.

The other three sonatas here are similarly characteristic, if lighter, and they leap off the page with Bavouzet’s touch and insights. The one in E flat numbered 45 by Hoboken is from 1766 and of an exceptional breadth and expressiveness for that time; brilliance and difficulty as well. The D major Sonata (HobXVI/14) is probably earlier still, with a concentrated finale that plays wittily with silence and a five-note motif that together form a five-bar phrase. Who else but Haydn could have written that?

Lovely sound, deriving from a Yamaha piano and sessions at Potton Hall in Suffolk in May this year.

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