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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Sonatas:-
Sonata No. 53 in E minor, Hob.XVI/34
Sonata No. 54 in G major, Hob.XVI/40
Sonata No. 55 in B flat major, Hob.XVI/41
Sonata No. 56 in D major, Hob.XVI/42
Sonata No. 57 in F major, Hob.XVI/47
Sonata No. 58 in C major, Hob.XVI/48
Ronald Brautigam, fortepiano
Recorded at Länna Church, Sweden, August 1998
30th Anniversary Edition
BIS - CD-300993 [74:23]

Comparison: Brilliant Classics 998176 [10CDs]


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In celebration of its 30th anniversary, BIS has reissued thirty recordings from its back inventory at mid-price for a limited time from July through December of this year. Ronald Brautigam has been traversing on fortepiano a cycle of the complete Haydn Keyboard Sonatas, and Volume 2 of the series is part of the anniversary celebration.

Although there has been much debate concerning the use of modern piano vs. fortepiano for Haydnís Sonatas, the dust seems to have settled with both types of instruments now considered appropriate. In fact, we are even seeing early Haydn Sonatas recorded on the harpsichord.

I had the pleasure a few months ago of reviewing a 10-cd set of all the Haydn Keyboard Sonatas issued by Brilliant Classics. Using five different artists and a variety of fortepianos, the Brilliant Classics box set is an outstanding bargain as the performances are uniformly excellent and the price corresponds to less than one-half the cost of a Naxos recording.

When Ronald Brautigamís series began a few years ago, it essentially had the Haydn fortepiano field to itself. With the release of the Brilliant Classics box set, the situation has changed greatly. Prospective buyers now can weigh the net advantages of acquiring the Brautigam recordings at full-price when an exceptional set of Haydnís Sonatas is available at only a fraction of the cost. Fortunately, the reissue of Brautigamís Volume 2 at mid-price allows interested parties to investigate his interpretations without shelling out top dollar. Still, it would appear reasonable that Brautigam must bring something distinctive or superior to the table to justify BIS prices.

Digressing a little, Haydnís solo keyboard music does not enjoy the immense popularity of his string quartets or symphonies. I find this slightly perplexing as the solo music displays the signature traits of his most revered music: brilliant sparkle, a rhetorical bent, improvisation, aristocracy, perfect structure, and a wide expressive range. Any keyboard artist needs to well convey these factors, and Brautigam attractively meets the requirements. However, the artists on the Brilliant Classics box set are also up to the challenge.

There are two significant differences between the Brautigam and Brilliant Classics recordings. One is that Brautigam uses very quick tempos and is consistently faster than each of the artists for Brilliant Classics. The faster tempos certainly carry the potential for enhanced excitement, but they also reduce the window for ample breathing room. The other difference is that Brautigamís soundstage has more resonance and brightness.

How each listener will respond to Brautigamís quicker pacing and brighter soundstage is largely dependent on subjective personal choice. Those who prefer their Haydn on the fast side should derive much pleasure from the Brautigam performances. My personal taste veers toward more moderate tempos where Haydnís lines are clearly delineated. Frankly, I find some of Brautigamís tempos of the break-neck variety. A typical example is his performance of the 2nd Movement "Allegro di molto" from Sonata No. 55 in B flat minor. Brautigam polishes off the movement in just over 2 minutes while most performances approach the three-minute range.

The specific program of Brautigamís Volume 3 offers six excellent sonatas highlighted by the masterful Sonata No. 58 in C major. Rhetoric and improvisation becomes common in Haydnís more mature works, and the 1st Movement "Andante con espressione" represents the full flowering of Haydnís rhetorical bent. Both Brautigam and Yoshiko Kojima for Brilliant Classics thrive on the musicís rhetorical and improvisational elements, Brautigam being the more perky while Kojima is rather introspective. I am also familiar with a recording of the C major on fortepiano performed by Lola Odiaga on the Titanic label that is every bit as rewarding as the Brautigam and Kojima interpretations.

In summary, I have very high regard for the Ronald Brautigam performances of Volume 2 and the entire series as well up to this point in time. However, the Brilliant Classics box set offers excellence of interpretation at super-bargain price that has to place it as the standard for fortepiano recordings of Haydnís Keyboard Sonatas. For those wanting only one set of performances for their library, Brilliant Classics is surely the avenue to pursue.

If more than one is desired, by all means check out Brautigam and Odiaga. There are also other recordings on fortepiano and/or harpsichord that deserve your exploration including those by Robert Hill and Malcolm Bilson. We are reaching a golden era for Haydn on early keyboard instruments and might as well take full advantage of the situation.

I havenít mentioned Alfred Brendelís recordings of Haydn Keyboard Sonatas on Philips, but his performances transcend matters of early vs. modern piano. I consider him the king of this repertoire, and no collection should be without his superior interpretations.

Other modern piano recordings worth noting include Andras Schiff on Teldec, Nadia Reisenberg on Ivory Classics, Glenn Gould on Sony, Zoltán Kocsis on Hungaroton, Dezsö Ránki on Hungaroton, Gilbert Kalish on Nonesuch, Leif Ove Andsnes on EMI, John McCabe on Decca, and Mikhail Pletnev on Virgin Classics.

Haydnís solo keyboard music may not be very popular with the public, but the recorded legacy is quite impressive. I strongly recommend that readers not familiar with this corpus of Haydnís music acquire one or more of the many excellent recordings on the market and discover how wonderfully Haydn wrote for the keyboard.

Don Satz

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