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Josef HAYDN (1732-1809) Keyboard Sonatas:
Sonata in B minor Hob XVI: 32; Variations in D major Hob XVII: 7; Sonata in D major Hob XVI: 24; Sonata in F major Hob XVI: 29; Variations in F minor Hob XVII: 6; Capriccio I G major on the Austrian folksong ‘Acht Sausschneider mussen sein’ Hob XVII:I
Derek Adlam (clavichord)
Recorded in the North Transept of Worksop Priory, Nottinghamshire, September 2002
GUILD GMCD 7260 [69.23]

 

Perhaps it may seem odd hearing these sonatas on the clavichord. In fact not so: the instrument is the real predecessor of the piano and Haydn played it himself throughout his life.

If you have heard or played Haydn sonatas at all you are most likely to have come across them on the piano, as in performances and recordings by, for example, John McCabe, yet they are most unsuitable for the instrument. It may not be coincidence that they appear unsuccessful, crabby and sometimes awkward and often seem not to be exploiting many of the piano’s most significant strengths. For example the textures are quite thin being mostly in three or even two parts with few chords. Mozart’s sonatas, not in fact always his most inspired works, were mostly composed for the fortepiano an instrument he loved and owned for its expressive qualities and which he exploited most tellingly. Chordal work and passing the melody between the hands became standard for Mozart.

Haydn’s later sonatas of the late 1780s are more complex works. I am talking of those with the Hob numbers 45-50. They even at times remind us of Beethoven. These sonatas under review here must date from the 1770s although at no point does the otherwise useful booklet specify any dates.

You may have heard Haydn sonatas on a fortepiano; for example Paul Badura-Skoda’s wonderful but now difficult to find series for Astrée, made originally on LPs in the 1980s and transferred to CDs in the 1990. Astrée E7713 is from that series.

You may feel that the harpsichord is a happy substitute but I fear that it also is not entirely satisfactory. It must be remembered that the basic sound of the harpsichord is of strings being plucked whereas that of the clavichord and fortepiano is of strings being hammered. Haydn apparently preferred the clavichord finding it expressive so it is a wonderful thing that this disc features an instrument played by the very man who made it. Adlam based it on a model dated 1763 by Adolphe Haas.

I once went to a clavichord recital in stately home in the West Country. Five hours before the recital I went up to purchase my ticket and was told that I was lucky as I had had the last one. The number on it was 0030. I queried the price, £20, and was told that as the instrument was so quiet only a few people could attend as anyone beyond a certain distance from the instrument would hear very little. They were right, the dynamic range was from p to pp but the house was mercifully silent. I mention this because the instrument on this CD has had to be quite closely microphoned and consequently there is, especially at the start of each track, a considerable amount of what we might call atmosphere. And the atmosphere in question here, is a somewhat unusual one, being the north transept of the huge Norman Priory church of Worksop in Nottinghamshire. I have visited this church and find it anomalous that such a huge building could have been chosen for a recording of a clavichord. Much as I like Guild I find their CDs original to the point of eccentricity, and whether it was the ‘ambience’ or the instrument I find the actual recorded sound here irritating and uningratiating.

But to turn to the music. I will say that it’s worth obtaining this disc for the F major sonata and the F minor Fantasie alone.

The booklet notes by D.A.Welbeck analyze these works and the ‘Capriccio’, which opens the disc, in some detail yet say next to nothing about the rest. This is not surprising as the D major sonata and both sets of Variations strike me as very routine.

The F major Sonata is a typical three movement work ending in a ‘Minuet and Trio’ which is submitted to variations which modulate unusually. But it is the opening sonata form Moderato which is so striking. Its somewhat martial opening contrasts with a more feminine (please forgive me) second subject marked by a falling phrase capped by a deliberately searching staccato section in the minor. This constitutes the Exposition. The Development, described quite correctly in the notes as a ‘fantasy’, sees the martial theme in the tonic minor and then hives off into some distant keys, with phrases broken up with silences or with stuttery repetitions which open out into a bright recap. This develops sequentially, and the second group has some alterations before it is all wound up with a succinct coda. The slow movement is reminiscent of an opera aria with a singing melody over delicate accompaniment.

The F minor Variations begin with a dotted rhythm similar to the one used in the above sonata. It is closely analyzed in the notes. Welbeck calls it "one of Haydn’s greatest compositions in any genre". Its hypnotic and gradual rise in intensity does indeed set it apart from other works and brings to mind the composer’s ‘sturm und drang’ period which covers the middle period Symphonies (numbers 50-65).

Derek Adlam has been building keyboard instruments since 1969 but was trained as a pianist - a unique combination. I find his interpretations faultless in speed and in ornamentation. Knowing the instrument so well he brings out as much as is possible of its expressive qualities.

Gary Higginson

see also review by Paul Shoemaker



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