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Joseph HAYDN (1732 – 1809)
Sonata No.28 in D major, Hob. XVI/5a (1766)
Sonata No.29 in E flat major, Hob. XVI/45 (1767)
Sonata No.30 in D major, Hob. XVI/19 (1768)
Ronald Brautigam, fortepiano
Recorded August 2000, Sweden


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Nobody knows how many keyboard sonatas Haydn wrote. Some were lost during his lifetime and there are others that apparently survived but are of doubtful attribution. There still remains a considerable body of work written over a period of about a quarter of a century that represents both a developmental stage in the sonata genre and a period in which composers were adapting to the transition from harpsichord and clavichord to piano.

The three sonatas on this disc are relatively early works in the form for Haydn. They are from the same period - mid to late 1760s - written when he was in his thirties at a time when he was at his most experimental. Just as he was revolutionising the symphony by expanding it in both size and emotional content, so also with the keyboard sonata.

Two of the three works here, notably nos. 29 and 30, represent a major step forward for Haydn and all three make a neat package in the form of Brautigam's volume 8 in his noble enterprise of recording all of Haydn's attributable keyboard music.

The sonatas are long for the time and in the case of 29 and 30 the slow middle movements particularly so, a practice clearly deriving from 3 movement concerto form. Within the music there is more than a hint of sturm und drang in some telling juxtaposition of major and minor keys. A strong influence clearly comes from the sonatas of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (Johann Sebastian’s second son). "I owe a great deal to Bach", said Haydn. The sonatas of Bach he had been studying shortly before writing these pieces were written well over twenty years earlier which makes Haydn's work less ground breaking than posterity has sometimes claimed.

C.P.E. Bach was still writing some great keyboard music but, in my opinion, even his sonatas of the 1740s provide finer music than that of Haydn's more than twenty years later. There are several aspects of style that point to Bach, for example the free, toccata–like passage in the first movement of no. 30 and an improvised cadenza in the second. More importantly, what Haydn seems to be drawing on from Bach is both passion and seriousness of intent, something unusual in keyboard pieces of the period which were normally of the salon divertimenti variety. But in expanding the sonata spatially, Haydn loses some of the conciseness of C.P.E. Bach’s pieces which are much shorter. This conciseness is one of the qualities that contributes to the intensity of the latter’s music. But to be fair, Haydn’s more expansive classical (and some would say South German) agenda is different.

The finest movement in these three sonatas is the first of no. 30 in D major. It begins innocently enough but builds up an irresistible power, partly through substantial development, something that, incidentally, does not happen in the first movement of no. 29 which contains a lot of exposition and little development. Brautigam is at his best here, releasing the power through a steady, no nonsense approach without getting carried away. His playing is mercifully free of mannerism and exudes integrity. Although the music of these pre-1770s works, with its ornamentation, gracings, baroque bass lines and so on, was almost certainly written for the harpsichord and/or clavichord, Brautigam appears to be intending to record all his volumes on the same instrument which is a replica of a fortepiano, the original of which was made well over thirty years after the pieces in this volume. So things are not quite as authentic as they may at first seem. The booklet does discuss the issue but rather defensively, suggesting it doesn’t matter. Well fair enough. Fortepianos were around at the time and it is the persuasiveness of the performance that counts. Brautigam certainly provides that although some people may still prefer to return to that great advocate of Haydn’s keyboard music, Alfred Brendel. Interpretatively the two are not dissimilar.

Some critics have enthused about the recorded sound of Brautigam’s earlier volumes. The Swedish production company, BIS, claims on its website that, "it seems to be generally agreed, the Haydn series offers some of the best sound ever heard on a fortepiano recording". I cannot altogether share the enthusiasm. The fortepiano is recorded quite close and that, combined with more than a hint of empty church hall ambience, makes the instrument sound much bigger than it ought to, thus losing some of the sense of salon intimacy that characterises much of the music. However, the instrument is clearly a fine one so I would not want to suggest that this be a major issue for potential purchasers. Here we have an enjoyable disc of music that deserves to be better known.

John Leeman

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