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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Andreas Staier Edition: Haydn Sonatas and Variations

CD 1
Late Sonatas

Sonata in C Major H.XVI:48
Sonata in E Flat Major H.XVI:49
Sonata in C major H.XVI:50
Sonata in D Major H.XVI:51
Sonata in E Flat Major H.XVI:52
CD 2
Opera XXX

Sonata in C Major H.XVI:35
Sonata in C Sharp Minor H.XVI:36
Sonata in D major H.XVI:37
Sonata in E Flat Major H.XVI:38
Sonata in G Major H.XVI:39
Sonata in C Minor H.XVI:20
CD 3
Variations and Sonatas for Fortepiano

Arietta con 12 Variazioni in E Flat major H.XVII:3
Sonata in E Minor H.XVI:34
Andante con 12 Variazioni in F minor H.XVII:6
Sonata in D major H.XVI:33
Variation on the hymn ‘Gott erhalte’ H.III/77(?)
Andreas Staier, fortepiano
Recorded at Schulzentrum, Lindlar, German Republic. 27-30 November 1989 (CD 1), 9-12 October 1992 (CD 2) and 8-11 June 1992 (CD 3). DDD
DHM DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI 82876 67376 2 [3 CDs: 71:50 + 77:49 + 72:14]

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It seems that these recordings from Andreas Staier on Deutsche Harmonia Mundi were previously issued on Harmonia Mundi in 1990 (CD1) and 1993 (CDs 2-3). Presented now in a smart new three CD box set these make attractive listening for those Haydn collectors who prefer their keyboard music played on the fortepiano. On the first CD Andreas Staier uses a 1989 fortepiano by Christopher Clarke, after Anton Walter of Wien circa. 1790 and on CD 2 and 3 a 1986 fortepiano by Christopher Clarke, after Anton Walter, circa 1792. I would suggest however having a listen to the sound of the instrument before considering purchase.

Haydn composed for the genre of the piano sonata over a period of some thirty-five years, from 1760 to about 1795. For some reason he ceased writing in the form fourteen years before his death while his fellow Vienna-based contemporaries Mozart, Beethoven and even Schubert continued to write sonatas up to the end of their lives. Haydn was to write some fifty piano sonatas although it was not quite the happy medium that the string quartet and the symphony proved to be. All the same Haydn’s greatest works in this genre contain some tremendous music and rank with the best produced before Beethoven’s time.

Haydn’s piano writing brought a new concept of thematic presentation and enlargement, a mastery of structure, at times a daring in the use of tonalities and unexpected effects, and a wealth of expressiveness. Building on the piano sonatas of Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach, Haydn developed the classical form by, "improving so largely upon the earlier", says biographer J. Cuthbert Hadeen, "that we could pass from his sonatas directly to those of Beethoven without the intervention of Mozart’s as a connecting link. Beethoven’s sonatas were certainly more influenced by Haydn’s than by Mozart. The masterpieces amongst Haydn’s sonatas ... astonish by their order, regularity, fluency, harmony and roundness, and by their splendid development into full and complete growth out of the sometimes apparently unimportant germs ... "

Generally the keyboard music of the eighteenth century can be divided into two categories. One viewpoint states that there are those compositions intended for performance by ‘connoisseurs’ or ‘experts’, and there are those designed for the use of ‘amateurs’. Many of Haydn’s sets of variations are the lightweight and more decorative music for the amateur with only limited demands being made on the player’s technique.

Göttingen-born keyboard player Andreas Staier uses two modern fortepianos copies, after Anton Walter of Wien, from the period around 1791. The sound of the fortepiano is very different to that of the modern grand piano that artistes would typically use today. Some listeners will undoubtedly find the fortepiano a refreshing change and many will favour the authenticity but the sound will certainly not be to everyone’s taste. Although I am a lover of performances on authentic instruments the fortepiano was one of the least successful instruments and the most deserving of improvement. I am not always comfortable with the sound made by many fortepianos and however fine a performance may be I find it difficult at times to get past the often unpleasant sound. The Anton Walter copies used here do not have the most appealing timbre that I have heard but I am able to live with the sound and appreciate the quality of Staier’s interpretation.

Fortepianist Andreas Staier has impeccable credentials having studied with eminent teachers and keyboard performers Gustav Leonhardt, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Ton Koopman. The thoughtful paying is most appealingly caught, maintaining a natural expressive flow with an elegance of phrasing. Staier is spirited without rushing and displays plenty of subtlety and imagination. The sound of the fortepiano is well recorded and the booklet notes are reasonably informative although an article by Andreas Staier is rather eccentric. If I were to suggest just one recording of a selection of Haydn's piano sonatas it would be the acclaimed accounts from Leif Ove Andsnes on EMI CDC5 56756-2. Alternatively the series of the complete Haydn piano sonatas on Naxos from Jenö Jandö is very consistent and direct in style.

Haydn’s piano sonatas offer many delights and certainly deserve to be better known. These accounts performed on the fortepiano are rather an acquired taste. If possible I would recommend a listen before purchase.

Michael Cookson

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