It seems that these recordings from Andreas Staier on Deutsche
Harmonia Mundi were previously issued on Harmonia Mundi in 1990
(CD1) and 1993 (CDs 2-3). Presented now in a smart new three
CD box set these make attractive listening for those Haydn collectors
who prefer their keyboard music played on the fortepiano. On
the first CD Andreas Staier uses a 1989 fortepiano
by Christopher Clarke, after Anton Walter of Wien circa. 1790
and on CD 2 and 3 a 1986 fortepiano by Christopher Clarke, after
Anton Walter, circa 1792. I would suggest however having a listen
to the sound of the instrument before considering purchase.
Haydn composed for the genre of the piano sonata over a
period of some thirty-five years, from 1760 to about 1795. For
some reason he ceased writing in the form fourteen years before
his death while his fellow Vienna-based contemporaries Mozart,
Beethoven and even Schubert continued to write sonatas up to
the end of their lives. Haydn was to write some fifty piano
sonatas although it was not quite the happy medium that the
string quartet and the symphony proved to be. All the same Haydn’s
greatest works in this genre contain some tremendous music and
rank with the best produced before Beethoven’s time.
Haydn’s piano writing brought a new concept of thematic
presentation and enlargement, a mastery of structure, at times
a daring in the use of tonalities and unexpected effects, and
a wealth of expressiveness. Building on the piano sonatas of
Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach, Haydn developed the classical form
by, “improving so largely upon the earlier”, says biographer
J. Cuthbert Hadeen, “that we could pass from his sonatas directly
to those of Beethoven without the intervention of Mozart’s as
a connecting link. Beethoven’s sonatas were certainly more influenced
by Haydn’s than by Mozart. The masterpieces amongst Haydn’s
sonatas ... astonish by their order, regularity, fluency, harmony
and roundness, and by their splendid development into full and
complete growth out of the sometimes apparently unimportant
germs ... ”.
Generally the keyboard music of the eighteenth century
can be divided into two categories. One viewpoint states that
there are those compositions intended for performance by ‘connoisseurs’
or ‘experts’, and there are those designed for the use of ‘amateurs’.
Many of Haydn’s sets of variations are the lightweight and more
decorative music for the amateur with only limited demands being
made on the player’s technique.
Göttingen-born keyboard player Andreas Staier uses two modern fortepianos copies,
after Anton Walter of Wien, from the period around 1791. The sound of the fortepiano is very different
to that of the modern grand piano that artistes would typically
use today. Some listeners will undoubtedly find the fortepiano
a refreshing change and many will favour the authenticity but
the sound will certainly not be to everyone’s taste. Although I am a lover
of performances on authentic instruments the fortepiano was
one of the least successful instruments and the most deserving
of improvement. I am not always comfortable with the sound made
by many fortepianos and however fine a performance may be I
find it difficult at times to get past the often unpleasant
sound. The Anton
Walter copies used here do not have the most appealing timbre
that I have heard but I am able to live with the sound and appreciate
the quality of Staier’s interpretation.
Fortepianist Andreas Staier has
impeccable credentials having studied with eminent teachers
and keyboard performers Gustav Leonhardt, Nikolaus Harnoncourt
and Ton Koopman. The thoughtful paying is most appealingly caught,
maintaining a natural expressive flow with an elegance of phrasing.
Staier is spirited without rushing and displays plenty of subtlety
and imagination. The sound of the fortepiano is well recorded
and the booklet notes are reasonably informative although an
article by Andreas Staier is rather eccentric. If I were to
suggest just one recording of a selection of Haydn's piano sonatas
it would be the acclaimed accounts from Leif Ove Andsnes on
EMI CDC5 56756-2. Alternatively the series of the complete Haydn
piano sonatas on Naxos from Jenö Jandö is very consistent and
direct in style.
Haydn’s piano sonatas offer many
delights and certainly deserve to be better known. These accounts
performed on the fortepiano are rather an acquired taste. If
possible I would recommend a listen before purchase.