|Founder: Len Mullenger||
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett
| Joseph HAYDN
Piano Sonatas and Fantasia
Sonata No.24 in D (1773)
Sonata No.46 in A flat (1767/8)
Sonata No.48 in C (1789)
Sonata No.49 in E flat (1789-90)
Fantasia in C (1789)
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
Recorded at Fontevraud Abbey, Maine-et-Loire, France, October, 1991 DDD
HARMONIC RECORDS H/CD 9141 [68.23]
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After being neglected by the record companies for some years (the ground-breaking John McCabe complete cycle being an honourable exception), the piano sonatas of Haydn are making real headway in the record catalogue. There are notable selections from, amongst others, Alfred Brendel, Emanuel Ax, Leif Ove Andsnes, Andras Schiff and, in another ongoing complete cycle, Jenö Jandó. This present selection was recorded over a decade ago by a pianist new to me, and very enjoyable it is. With a sparkling, secure technique, and a real feeling for the dynamic contrasts within each piece, this is a recital to compare with the best.
Bavouzet is a young pianist (b.1962) who comes with a ringing endorsement, in the booklet, from none other than Zoltan Kocsis. His playing shares some of the Hungarian’s traits: crystal clear accuracy, an extremely wide dynamic range, and an impetuosity that gives an added frisson, without becoming self-indulgent. He is helped, I feel, by his choice of instrument. Bavouzet uses a Yamaha CF III concert grand, pianos which are noted generally for a bright, ringing tone, and an action which is regulated to be on the light side. In this respect it resembles the Bösendorfers often favoured by Andras Schiff, who maintains that the lightness of touch and brightness of tone offer a modern counterpart to the Viennese pianos of Haydn’s day.
On the present disc, the piano’s tone is beautifully caught by the engineers, with fairly close microphone placing giving an intimacy that is appropriate.
As for the music, every piece is a gem. The disc starts with the relatively early A flat Sonata, a marvellous example of Haydn taking on board elements of Scarlatti and C.P.E. Bach, whilst keeping every movement brimful of his own unique brand of humour and quirkiness. The presto finale is taken at a fair lick, but the pianist’s technique is secure enough to cope easily with the formidable difficulties. He even inserts here (and indeed throughout the disc) tasteful embellishments of his own, usually the odd turn or appoggiatura, which livens up the melodic line (both Schiff and Ax do similar things).
My own personal favourite on the disc is the grand E flat Sonata of 1789/90. Bavouzet manages to get just the right tempo for the first movement; though Haydn marks it Allegro, the pianist correctly observes the bracketed non troppo after this. The result is a liveliness that never sounds breathless. The whole movement is full of dynamic hairpins and contrasts, not least in the four-note quaver figure that sounds prophetically like the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth (still well over a decade away). The slow movement is a true andante cantabile, a veritable song without words, beautifully phrased and given the emotional weight it deserves. Unusually, Haydn marks his finale tempo di minuet, though such is the vivacity and almost Beethovenian ‘muscularity’, that I doubt it could be danced to! Again, the light and shade, not to mention the superb dexterity on show, make this pianism (and Haydn playing) of the highest order.
As mentioned above, the recording faithfully captures every subtlety and nuance of this exceptional pianist’s range. The booklet is excellent, with plenty of words on the music, a biography of the artist, and the typically spiky contribution from Kocsis. All in all, as good a Haydn disc as anything in the present catalogue.
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