Naxos, the most successful classical record company in
the world, made its mark by releasing new recordings of high quality
at super-budget prices. Brilliant Classics, relatively new to the
industry, has been releasing a mix of reissued and new recordings
of high quality at less than half the Naxos price. I am not expecting
that Brilliant Classics will attain the stature of Naxos, but their
box sets are very tempting and uniformly rewarding.
One of the companyís sets is the complete Haydn
Piano Sonatas played by five different artists, each having 2
discs in the 10-disc box. Each artist is afforded a mix of early
and mature Haydn works, which ensures greater programming variety
Fortepianos are used exclusively and bring to
Haydnís music a youthful vitality and range of colors that the
modern piano canít quite match. Six different fortepianos are
employed. Each one offers tangy and delicious tones that should
appeal to all those who do not insist on the concert grand.
Overall, I also think highly of the five performers.
They fully convey Haydnís sparkle, surprise, wit, detail, aristocracy,
improvisation, and rhetorical bent. I could spend hours describing
all the sonatas, the performances, and alternative recordings.
Since time constraints do not allow such an expansive regime,
Iíll simply give a few examples to indicate my pleasure with the
Bart van Oort, who has impressive credentials,
plays on the first two discs. In 1986, he won first prize at the
Mozart Fortepiano Competition in Brugge, Belgium and subsequently
studied with Malcolm Bilson at Cornell University and earned a
Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Historical Performance Practice
in 1993. He has many recordings to his credit, including being
one of the artists on the complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas series
on Claves. Currently, van Oort teaches fortepiano and lectures
at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague.
Van Oort starts us off with the Sonata in B flat
major, Hob. XVI/41, and it is a very pleasing beginning. He plays
in a light and delicate manner, capturing Haydnís nuances, playfulness,
and dignity. The 2nd Movement Largo of the Sonata in
B flat major, Hob. XVI/2 is a particular early Haydn favorite
of mine; the piece contains a strong degree of angst, and van
Oort mines it expertly.
Although I love Alfred Brendelís performance
of the Sonata in B minor, Hob. XVI/32, van Oort is a close second
choice as he conveys the musicís sinister and exciting qualities
in heaping quantities while never sounding heavy. In the 1st
and 2nd Movements of the Sonata in A flat major, Hob.
XVI/46, no artist makes the music more beautiful and pleading
than van Oort.
Other exceptional aspects of van Oortís playing
include the wonderful rhythmic vitality and bounce in the 1st
Movement of the Sonata in D major, Hob. XVI/33, his tenderness
in the Adagio of the Sonata in C major, Hob. XVI/1, and the effective
rhetorical presentation and sense of improvisation in the 1st
Movement of the Sonata in D major, Hob. XVI/42 and the Adagio
of the Sonata C major, Hob. XVI/50.
Overall, I have the highest admiration and affection
for van Oortís performances. He gives us all that Haydn offers,
and I consider him one of the finest Haydn performing artists
in the world.
The next two discs are devoted to the performances
of Ursula Dütschler who studied with Jörg Ewald Dähler,
Kenneth Gilbert, and Malcolm Bilson. As with van Oort, Dütschler
is one of the featured artists on the Beethoven/Claves series.
Among her many highlights on the two Haydn discs, I am greatly
taken with her reading of the 1st Movement of the Sonata
in D major, Hob. XVI/37; the music radiates a joy of life, and
Dütschlerís exuberance is sure to put a smile on your face.
The 2nd Movement "Largo e sostenuto" is also
played superbly with a pensive approach placing top priority on
Haydnís rhetorical elements. I have a slight preference for van
Oort, but Dütschler more than satisfies my cravings.
Discs 5 and 6 are courtesy of Stanley Hoogland
who is an early music specialist teaching at the Royal Conservatory
of Music at The Hague and the Conservatory of Amsterdam. Exceptional
performances continue with Hoogland as he starts off with a deliciously
tangy and joyful performance of the Sonata in C Major, Hob. XVI/7.
When poignancy or melancholy are present, Hoogland digs deeply
with superb accenting and inflections such as in the Adagios of
the Sonata in E minor, Hob. XVI/47 and the Sonata in F major,
The Sonata in E minor, Hob. XVI/34 thrives on
urgency and exuberance, and Hoogland conjures up high energy readings
which penetrate the musicís core. He is also a pro at conveying
the heroic swagger of Haydnís music as is evidenced by his performance
of the Sonata in D major, Hob. XVI/51. By the time I was finished
listening to Hooglandís two discs, I was a happy camper feeling
at peace with the world. He is a very satisfying artist who deserves
Next on the program is Yoshiko Kojima who has
studied with Stanley Hoogland and with Kyoko Ogawa who records
for BIS. Kojima has recorded a few discs including the complete
Beethoven works for piano and cello. She maintains the high standards
of the three previous artists in the series and has the honor
of performing the Sonata in C major, Hob. XVI/48 which has my
favorite movement from all of Haydnís Piano Sonatas. It is the
1st Movement "Andante con espressione" where
Haydnís superb rhetorical and improvisatory gifts reach their
apex. Kojima takes full advantage and also offers intervals as
meaningful as in the exceptional Alfred Brendel recording on Philips.
The last two discs belong to Riko Fukuda who
also studied with Stanley Hoogland and has recorded discs of the
works of Dussek and Pinto. Once again, excellent playing is the
order of the day. I was initially a little turned-off by Fukudaís
very slow tempo in the 1st Movement of the highly regarded
Sonata in C minor, Hob. XVI/20, but further listening won me over;
the slow tempo allows Fukuda to deeply penetrate the musicís drama
In conclusion, this exceptional box set of the
complete Haydn Piano Sonatas would be highly desirable at a premium
price. Instead, we can have the set for no more than the cost
of low-quality discs that donít even give the names of the performers
or orchestras on the covers. The Haydn box set is a Ďstealí, and
I urge all those who love Haydn or the fortepiano to add it to
their music library.