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HAYDN Sonatas Hob XVI 20, 32, 41, 42, 44 and 48.
Marcia Hadjimarkos (clavichord)
ZigZag ZZT990901 72'19"

This is a revelatory CD, extending the scope of the clavichord beyond my dreams. I have enjoyed working at some of the smaller Haydn sonatas on my clavichord, and indeed heard a few given in recital, but had never thought of the instrument as a serious contender in that repertoire. Here we have six sonatas of 1771-89, including some of the grandest of them.

Marcia Hadjimarkos is American born, active now in the early music scene in Burgundy, where she has presented the French premiere of the complete Haydn keyboard sonatas, given in a cycle of eight concerts on clavichord, square and grand forte-pianos. It is surprising that it has taken so long for this fascinating oeuvre to become as well known as the, to my ears, far less interesting and less adventurous Mozart sonatas.

For this CD, Ms Hadjimarkos plays a Steiner copy of a Hubert clavichord of 1772. Hubert clavichords respond to the subtlest nuances of touch, producing a wide tonal palette and large dynamic range. They are copied by the leading contemporary makers, and this example proves wholly suitable for Haydn, who owned a clavichord from the 1750s on and did not write expressly for the fortepiano until 1790. He uses generic terms for keyboard instruments on his title pages, and prescribes sometimes the term portato, a lightly detached attack, which can only be played on that instrument.

This player is no bookish antiquarian. She plays with boundless energy and virtuosity, taking risks (but never tumbling) at breakneck tempi, on an instrument which is notoriously difficult to manage. There is rubato a-plenty, sometimes stretching pauses and making the most the sudden corners and contrasts which are so characteristic of Haydn's fertile imagination. Slow movements are as expressive as one can dare; fast ones boundlessly exhilarating. All the repeats are played, and you never wish she didn't.

The earliest sonatas included date from 1771, in G minor & C minor, music for 'connaisseurs', not 'amateurs', the latter 'the longest and most difficult' of the group characteristic of the Sturm und Drang (storm and stress) aesthetic, as is too the B minor sonata of 1776. Several are in two movements, but that does not make them lightweight. Those here in D major and C major have elaborate variations on highly ornamented themes, with concise, fast finales to follow.

Marcia Hadjimarkos does not tell us which edition she uses, but mine is elderly and long superseded; She gives me confidence that her decisions about ornamentation etc are soundly based in recent scholarship, yet always at the service of lively communication. The documentation is otherwise adequate and interesting. The presentation is in an attractive slipcase. (My review copy of the booklet was badly cut and stapled, but I am assured this is not a general fault.)

I cannot recommend this CD too highly and would commend it especially to any who are still wedded to the modern piano for 18th century keyboard music (see my review for MotW of the new series of Galuppi sonatas.) Play any clavichord CD with the volume control farther down than you ever do normally, then you will approach the true tone quality of the clavichord and gradually become used to its unexpectedly wide dynamic range, albeit at a low level.

For a life-enhancing experience, which might undermine your scepticism if you are not yet persuaded by the 'authentic' period instrument movement, try to get hold of two other recommendable Haydn CDs for comparison, say Brendel on Phillips (a properly admired, bench-mark Haydn interpreter on modern piano) and another on square pianos of the period, such as Joanna Leach (Athene CD2). At the least, you will have a rewarding evening's listening, which might alter your perspective of this perennial controversy.


Peter Grahame Woolf


Peter Grahame Woolf

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