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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Sonatas - Volume 7  
Piano Sonata No. 8 in A major, Hob. XVI/5 (1763, ?c.1750-55) [13:17]
Piano Sonata No. 46 in E major, Hob. XVI/31 (1776) [11:49]
Piano Sonata No. 13 in G major, Hob. XVI/6 (before 1760) [16:45]
Piano Sonata No. 57 in F major, Hob. XVI/47 (1788, movements 2-3 c.1765) [19:21]
Piano Sonata No. 58 in C major, Hob. XVI/48 (1789-90) [12:26]
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
rec. 2017, Potton Hall, Dunwich, UK
CHANDOS CHAN10998 [72:42]

As in previous volumes of this series, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet gives us a fascinating mix of Haydn’s early, middle and late keyboard sonatas. Up first here is Piano Sonata No. 8 which many, including this CD’s booklet writer Marc Vignal, doubt is authentic Haydn owing to its rather ungainly manner. But Bavouzet throws himself into it enthusiastically and allows us to enjoy it. The opening Allegro scampers with great energy. Bavouzet is wise to temper ornamentation until the repeats where he ingeniously slips in more. The contrast of material in the minor, usually relative minor key, also found in the finale, is neat and terse and Bavouzet makes it noticeable, though much of the major material is repetitive. The new material in the development is flimsy, for instance you need to hear the right-hand frills as decoration for the slim, sequential left-hand melody (tr. 1, from 2:50). For Bavouzet the second movement Minuet provides the relief of calm. The Trio, in A minor, has a mysterious beginning soon made more comfortable. The Presto finale is piquant with a rigorous structure that’s more Haydnesque. Bavouzet takes it at an exhilarating full tilt.

I compared the classic recording by John McCabe from the complete set made between 1974 and 1977 (Decca 443 785-2). He balances well the first movement’s elegance and robustness, but Bavouzet’s more smoothly tempered tone brings out the wit of the piece more and hence the polish, particularly in the running triplets in semiquavers. In the outer movements McCabe omits the second half repeats. For me the piece is improved by their inclusion which Bavouzet provides. The differing approach to the Minuet is interesting. Bavouzet makes it ‘graceful’, as Vignal describes it, especially the opening phrases of both halves. McCabe, with a strong emphasis on the first beat in the bar, goes for a disciplined grandeur which is nevertheless more dance like. At this point I checked out Ronald Brautigam’s 2000 recording on the fortepiano (Bis BIS-CD 1293-4) whose extra percussiveness makes it more skipping too. Furthermore, Bavouzet’s approach leaves less room for a contrasted Trio, though he brings to it a more strikingly mysterious opening: McCabe starts it more solemnly, then lightens the mood. McCabe’s finale, more decorative than robust, nevertheless has a splendour about it. Bavouzet’s finale has a disciplined and witty bustle, so it’s dashing in both senses.

Piano Sonata No. 46 is an unusual and varied bag of tricks, a good place to admire Haydn’s legerdemain. From the start the opening movement has interesting material in both hands, airy musing and comic asides in turn, and soon lots of semiquaver runs. In the exposition repeat Bavouzet adds delicate ornamentation and subdues the raucous left-hand elements by a delicate right-hand until the semiquaver runs which are now more dazzling and relished. In the second half of the development (tr. 4, 2:58) the semiquavers are of a more substantial import backed by a firmer left-hand contribution, while in the recapitulation the first theme has its own shining culmination. The antique style of the E minor slow movement makes a very cool contrast. In strict three-part counterpoint with constant running quavers, mainly in the left hand, it recalls Bach’s Inventions. Here Bavouzet adds only a tasteful modicum of ornamentation in the repeats, as this is at heart a majestically calm piece, albeit still with a right-hand high tessitura climax in its opening section and fervour about this, especially on its repeat. The rondo variation finale Bavouzet treats in a robust, rollicking fashion. Its first variation (tr. 6, 0:26) is more ornate, its second (0:52) features a right-hand descant while its E minor episode (1:21) is more forthright and growingly frenetic from Bavouzet before he brings to the final variation (1:47) gleeful joie de vivre, thrown off, like the whole, with peremptory urgency.

I compared the 2003 recording by Ekaterina Derzhavina from her complete set (Profil PH 12037). Her first movement is at heart elegant and miniature, with less flair and natural dazzle yet more exquisite and classical than Bavouzet. The early left-hand interjections are at first like soft throat-clearing but gradually become more prominent, once lively semiquaver runs are interchanged between the hands. Derzhavina’s ornamentation in the first half repeat makes everything more frisky; come the development all is again contained until suddenly left-hand boldness vividly appears in the second half. The recapitulation brings a return to daintiness. Unlike Bavouzet, Derzhavina doesn’t make the second half repeat. In the slow movement she plays the left-hand quavers in a clipped manner, almost as if a staccato not marked. It makes the piece more dramatic, a touch jocular or perhaps protesting. The ‘climax’ of the opening section is treated more objectively than by Bavouzet and Derzhavina’s added ornamentation in the first half repeat was for me more intrusive than enhancing. Her finale happily returns to light and elegant manner and the rondo variations become merrily virtuosic as the running quavers of the theme become semiquavers in Variation 1 and her ornamentation makes it more obstreperous. Variation 2 glistens gently. The episode is nicely contrasted with forthrightness still within an intimate scale. Her final variation is genially bubbling. In sum Derzhavina honours Haydn in the sitting room, Bavouzet takes him out to the concert hall.

Piano Sonata No. 13 has a first movement which is unconventional in structure yet very absorbing, especially in Bavouzet’s account, which is very outgoing and full of high spirits. The opening theme is relatively inconsequential but has a finely balanced rise and fall. The second theme (tr.7, 0:14) is a bright, arresting fanfare. The third (0:34), more subtly, is in two parts, the first part falling simply in trills first time and only fully grown on its second appearance, the second part (0:42), more memorable in its gawky descents. At the end of the exposition (1:59) the first theme is recapitulated and not heard again, so development and recapitulation are mixed, the development chiefly the dominance of the four-semiquaver/quaver motif heard in the first theme. Bavouzet showcases all this with both a scrupulous wit and a cheeky sense of fun. Next comes a Minuet which has a comparably balanced rise and fall as the first theme of the first movement but is notably calmer. The Trio, in G minor, is suddenly plaintive and aching yet later protesting in low register. The effect of that contrast with the Minuet returning is that a happy face can mask an inner sadness. All the movements in this sonata are linked in mood, the slow movement (tr. 9) now taking up G minor again with the pathos of an extended arioso which starts in a Bach-like manner but is less reserved in its sequential phrases of grief. At 1:33 and almost at the end there’s a pause indicating a cadenza which Bavouzet tastefully adds, taking around 30 seconds on both occasions based on sequences of a sorrowful falling figure in semiquavers. In the irrepressibly hearty finale the ‘link’ is one of total contrast, as if the retort to the Adagio is ‘OK, now pull yourself together!’ and Bavouzet’s response is ‘OK, I’ll show you!’ At the correct Allegro molto marking, which has ample fizz, this seems a manic letting off of steam rather than genuine joy. A touch hard driven, lured by the display of virtuosity demanded? It’s more to admire than like.

I compared the performance by Anton Kuerti (Analekta AN 29933) published in 2008. His opening movement has a charming simplicity. He’s more abstract, less demonstrative and mercurial than Bavouzet but with more wit and refinement. His playing is so delightful he can enjoy the work for what it is and make the exposition repeat without any additional ornamentation. Yet, unlike Bazouvet, he doesn’t repeat the second half. In the Minuet he shows how the second parts of both sections take off rejoicingly. It’s content in its lovely roseate artifice. His Trio is suddenly distant though not as bleak as Bavouzet’s: like a grim scherzo the second parts of both its sections are more threatening. His slow movement has a concentrated sadness, the line beautifully placed with the trills used to propel the arioso forward to stop it becoming too self-absorbed. His cadenzas are only about half the length of Bavouzet’s but without his sequences seem more intently melodic. His finale is unbelievably faster than Bavouzet’s, 2:18 against 2:40, but it’s blithe because of his lighter touch, the semiquavers trickle by and in triplets are like somersaults in sheer happiness.

Piano Sonata No. 57 is a puzzle. Marc Vignal writes that it’s a fake: in which case why record it? Ulrich Leisinger, the editor of the revised Wiener Urtext, is more open minded, suggesting the first movement might have been added by Haydn to create an archaic impression, given that the second and third movements were recycled, transposed up a semitone from Sonata 19 where they were the first and second movements followed by a Tempo di Minuet finale. This new first movement is in the manner of a Bach two-part invention and Leisinger gives other examples in Haydn while on this CD we’ve already heard a Bach reminiscence in Sonata 46. John McCabe, who has performed all Haydn’s sonatas, thinks it’s genuine. I think, in Bavouzet’s hands, its two-part double-counterpoint, with the melodic line alternating between the right and left hands, has an attractively decorous flow. It’s also amenable, as Bavouzet shows, to tasteful ornamentation on repeat. However, it’s just a touch searching and self-conscious, which takes away a little of its stylishness, thereby sounding maybe like an experiment Haydn had made which he later thought would suit this context. But I wouldn’t want to scrap it. In the following expressive and dramatic arioso the distinctive voice of Haydn is immediately apparent. With Bavouzet it seems a dialogue between a lady’s high tessitura pleading and a sensitive response from a man in lower tessitura authority which is nevertheless a rejection. The lady becomes more passionate, the man responds with a dignified civility. There are moments of silence interspersed when you hope things might change, but they don’t. The finale is Haydn at his most ingenious. You sense a transmogrifying theme as it evolves in four phases, the second (tr. 13, 0:08) a jocular tumbling to the ground, the third (0:19) an extension of the opening and ever aiming higher, the fourth (0:40) a joyful rounding off. Such sleight of hand is best suited to a finale as now placed and Bavouzet revels in its playfulness.

I compared the recording by John McCabe. To the first movement he brings an inherent calm, yet later a greater sense of projection which brings more conviction. His first half times at 1:16 to Bavouzet’s 1:23, a small difference but enough to make the piece flow more smoothly and naturally, and sound more like Bach! In the second half the development flowers forth and the recapitulation can then be welcomed as a return to established values. Unlike Bavouzet, however, McCabe doesn’t repeat the second half. Bavouzet’s advantage here is that he brings to the first time a quiet sense of homecoming and then makes the repeat more fervently gathered. In the following arioso McCabe’s contrasts between its gentle pleading and stern rebuff are very stark: the pleading has a moving, eloquent fragility but gets a stony response. These are polarized positions. McCabe’s finale is jolly and robust, with fine contrast through dynamic shading, but its discipline, in particular the firm left hand, reveals the structure very clearly so you don’t marvel, as with Bavouzet, at the grace and the fantasy in the variations of motif.

Piano Sonata No. 58, the best-known sonata on this CD, creates a first movement based on its opening phrase, taking 5 seconds. But what a phrase! In a mellow upper bass register and Bavouzet immediately conveys the deepest and most tender feelings. The rest of the movement traces the consequences. For starters the following 25 seconds, which make up the first half of the work’s section A, to follow Vignal’s helpful booklet analysis, present a highly ornamented airborne version of the theme, showing the passionate effect on the lover, with a soft affectionate sighing phrase, more passion and now declamation, then a quiet attempt at nonchalance. The second half of this section ends rhetorically. The movement is in double variation form so there’s now a second theme, Section B (tr. 14, 2:44), in the minor. Bavouzet makes this thorny and it proceeds to plumb the depths of G minor. Section A1 (4:06) brings the return of the opening theme, Bavouzet caressing what’s left of it and proceeding to a lighter, simpler outline of it in the right hand against running semiquavers in the left, after which the examination of it becomes more tortuous. The return of the second theme, section B1 (6:09), also presents it plainly, against running semiquavers with the right hand later going into extremely expressive demisemiquavers. The climax comes with section A2 (7:18) when the theme itself is declaimed in searing upper register for the first time. The coda (7:45) falls away: Bavouzet conveys a blend of fulfilment and exhaustion.

I compared the 2017 recording by Anne-Marie McDermott (Bridge 9497) who, like Bavouzet, plays on a Yamaha CFX. Her approach, however, is quite different. Timing at 8:42 to Bavouzet’s 8:21, McDermott’s opening emphasises lyricism more than drama. Her theme is sunny, but less immediately rich than Bavouzet’s. She doesn’t add extra ornamentation in the repeats of sections, though in the second half repeat of section A, which from the beginning she makes more anxious yet still restrained in delivery and dynamic, she is more dramatic with the dynamic contrasts more pointed. Her section B brings a more stern, dark and formal manner, while the return of the theme in her section A1 is richer. Yet her touch remains lighter than Bavouzet’s, with smoother running semiquavers here and in section B1. Her demisemiquavers are less fraught than Bavouzet’s, her section A2 climax bright but less impassioned. Hers is a refined Haydn, solicitous yet understated. If you find Bavouzet over- demonstrative you’ll welcome her.

The rondo finale (tr. 15) is emphatically, sometimes mordantly, even sardonically, celebratory. Its cleverness lies in the Mozartian innocent jollity of the rondo theme which keeps returning despite the subversive activity around it. But you should take the crashing descent of its tail as a warning of future tobogganing, notable in the first episode (0:47) with its weighty bass presented in left-hand octaves thickened by parallel thirds at the bottom which it would seem Haydn picked up from Clementi. From this point the aerial manoeuvres are extended and the harmonies grow more oddball, while there are occasional rests to regroup and restore Mozart before sweeping him away again with further exoticism. The second episode (2:00) looks forward in its gloomy, then somewhat splenetic, wanderings to later Beethoven. Yet the journey is worth the effort for the defiantly jubilant close. Pretty it isn’t, but much of it is headlong virtuosity which Bavouzet takes in his stride and it makes for compulsive listening. McDermott is even faster than Bavouzet, if only by 7 seconds, and you admire her dexterity but her tone is a little harder which makes for a less comfortable ride, particularly in the welcome returns to the rondo theme. Her ‘Clementi bass’ is more sludgy, but I liked the warmer sense of an eager yet dignified quest she brings to the ‘proto Beethoven’ which paves the way for a sparklingly buoyant close, as if reclaiming the original innocence that Bavouzet no longer seeks.

There’s no better interpreter of Haydn today than Bavouzet: he has the secret of unlocking both his individuality and sheer quality.

Michael Greenhalgh


 

 




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