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
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
see also review
by Paul Shoemaker