HAYDN Piano Sonatas Vol 7 (Bavouzet)
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s series of Haydn’s piano sonatas reaches Vol 7, borne aloft by the momentum of almost unanimously laudatory reviews and a string of accolades including a brace of Gramophone Editor’s Choices over the past eight years. There’s no sign of a mid-series lull, either, on the new disc, which, like its predecessors, offers listening delight from first note to last.
These five sonatas range from the early No 6 (1760 or before), unusually in four movements and designated ‘Partita’, to the two-movement No 48 (1789), commissioned by Breitkopf to ‘raise the level of a “musical potpourri”’ (annotator Marc Vignal) that the company was planning. The other composers and works in this ‘potpourri’ are not mentioned in the booklet but it can only be assumed that its level was indeed raised by this sonata of utmost individuality: an Andante more akin to a free fantasia and a Presto in sonata-rondo form – a favourite style of Haydn’s but one not exploited anywhere else in his piano music. There’s also the beautiful E major, No 31 (1776), the serenity of whose opening Moderato is cast into sharp relief by the austere, Bachian three-part invention of its central Allegretto and the antics of its variation finale. Two other works, No 5 (described as ‘Divertimento’) and No 57 are of dubious provenance; Vignal expertly delineates the authenticity or otherwise of all these works and untangles their chronology and the conflicting numbering systems, while offering little further insight into the music itself.
The insight is communicated by the fingers of Bavouzet and by his palpable affection for these works. As before, the score is a starting point for him, not holy writ, and he grants himself full liberty to negotiate with Haydn, ornamenting and varying as he goes along, yet never obscuring the music’s purpose or pulling the spotlight away from it and towards himself. His Yamaha sounds well in Potton Hall, a little more presently recorded than Marc-André Hamelin (at Henry Wood Hall) for Hyperion. There is still some way to go but this volume is another stepping stone towards what must surely end up as a major modern recording landmark in the Haydn discography.