Say’s middle name must be “controversial”.
His Beethoven sonatas disc for Naïve divided critical opinion
upon release. Some – including me
– valued it for giving voice to the angst and tumult inside much
of the composer’s writing. Others found the emotions evident in
the playing to be too strong and misplaced: “A wild young man
of the keyboard with really very little to say,” one eminent critic
wrote. My colleague Kevin
Sutton found Say’s “moaning and groaning” at the keyboard
a distraction from the playing also.
composer might have changed with this new recording, but the
results make one sit up and take notice for better or worse
from the very first notes of the D major sonata. Clearly Fazil
Say has not lost any ability to shock with his playing, for
this is no run-of-the-mill Haydn sonatas disc. The outer movements
of his selected sonatas are wont to trip along sprightly enough,
but it is the details of accents and chordal sonorities that
after a short while begin to keep ones eyebrows firmly raised
at what is going on.
Rondo-Presto which closes sonata no. 43 is the most extreme
example of impulsive contrast to be heard on this recording.
For the most part it is phrased with some care, but at times
the ends of phrases are reduced to humourless, disjointed single
notes. Was this really what Haydn had in mind? Say, a composer
himself, would like us to think so, but I am not wholly convinced.
It seems to run so counter to the spirit of the movement thus
feeling that wit has been sidelined in favour of pianistic effect
seems almost inescapable in the sonatas that follow and on subsequent
auditions of the disc as a whole. More is the pity, as Haydn’s
sonatas are fine things and can always do with sterling advocacy.
Whilst there is no doubting Say’s technical abilities, it’s
a shame that he seems so reticent to let the music have its
natural shape and voice. That said, when heard in careful isolation
there are observations in individual movements that can delight,
which a pianist of lesser facility might fail to bring out:
the menuet of the sonata no. 10 carries cleanliness of articulation
and definition of body as integral to the whole, for example.
Here though, as so often throughout the recording, the result
is tempered by Say’s obvious vocalisation. Putting up with such
things in the concert hall is bad enough, but some self control
in the recording studio might have been exercised.
mercifully brief thoughts from Fazil Say and more extensive
notes on Haydn’s sonatas by Andreas Friesenhagen adequately
set the scene in the booklet.
all its points of contention this recording is hard to ignore
and is certainly a Haydn recital like you’ve never heard before.