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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Haydn sonatas on early pianos

Piano sonata in A flat major, Hob. XVI:43 (1783) [13:28]
Piano sonata in A major, Hob. XVI:26 (1773) [9:37]
Piano sonata in C major, Hob. XVI:50* (c.1794/5) [17:35]
Piano sonata in D major, Hob. XVI:51* (?c.1794/5) [6:11]
Richard Burnett (Rosenberger fortepiano, *Broadwood fortepiano)
rec. Finchcocks, Goudhurst, Kent, January 1979. AAD
AMON RA CD-SAR 5 [47:02]




Welcome to the world of the Haydn piano sonata in the sonorities Haydn would have experienced, one of accomplished compositions and playing, here from Richard Burnett. Musical ideas volley forth and develop in quicksilver fashion.

There are plenty of single discs of Haydn piano sonatas but not so many featuring fortepiano and fewer still, if any, which do what this one does. It compares the classical Viennese fortepiano, here one made by Michael Rosenberger around 1798 with the classical English, one from John Broadwood and Sons dated 1801.

Rosenberger first. An instrument comfortably recorded, I’d say a little closer than fashionable today, without the brilliance of a modern piano but its own subtle colourings and body, tonal weight and spread. Haydn’s Sonata in A flat has a boldly skipping opening theme, then a second theme (tr. 1 0:22) with still more confident start. Ornamentation is an integral part of the expression: trills in the first theme, appoggiaturas the second. But the second’s mood changes into a more song like one (0:43). A good example of the fortepiano’s tonal variety comes in the crescendi realized by Burnett here and in the later descending cascades from 1:14, using the piano’s sustaining mechanism. The exposition repeat is a touch more reflective. After a development (3:20) which highlights and varies the second theme, the recapitulation of the first (4:51) is more chastened and refined. Burnett doesn’t make post exposition repeats for the first 3 sonatas first movements in this disc though they are marked in the Henle Urtext.

Two Minuets occupy the centre of this A flat sonata. The first, straightforwardly spruce, is played with polish and a slightly clipped manner. The second (tr. 2 0:54) is more lyrical and flowing. Here Burnett makes appropriate use of this fortepiano’s moderator which mellows the sound towards a sotto voce character. He also supplies a natural and effective, though unmarked, touch of rallentando midway through the second strain, especially in the repeat (1:29).

The rondo finale is quite a tour de force in terms of its elaboration of frisky rondo theme and more reflective episodes. Then there are surprises: one episode (tr. 3 1:54) is a brilliant spilling of notes and one rondo theme return (2:51) graced simply by slight elaboration. The sustaining mechanism produces an exciting growing clamour from 3:29 in a virtuoso episode. The moderator supplies a softly receding farewell in the playful coda (4:39) to give even more gleeful effect to the loud final chord.
I compared Christine Schornsheim whose complete set of Haydn piano sonatas was recorded in 2003-4 (Capriccio 49404). Here are the comparative timings.Welcom

 

 

Timings   

I

II   

III

tt     

Burnett

6:20

2:10 

4:58

13:28

Schornsheim

5:49

2:07 (1:43)

4:46

12:42 (18)

Schornsheim is consistently swifter, particularly in the Minuets, where the bracketed timing provides the direct comparison as she repeats both strains in Minuet 1 da capo whereas Burnett makes no repeats there. Her style suits the greater brilliance of her instrument, a fortepiano by Louis Dulcken made in Munich in 1793. Its tone is thinner than Burnett’s Rosenberger, the recording not quite so close. The effect is more brittle, closer to harpsichord. Schornsheim treats the work more classically than Burnett, playing with more even tone and pulse and with less marked dynamic contrast. Her first movement is immediately more robust in articulation, the development more yielding. Given that the tempo marking is ‘moderato’ I prefer Burnett’s more relaxed approach which allows the musical line more scope to sing and then presents a more intense development.

Schornsheim’s Minuet 1 is more dashing but somewhat brusque in its power, though calmer on return after a glittering Minuet 2. Burnett’s Minuet 1 is neater and Minuet 2 of a more comely melodiousness. Schornsheim’s precipitous rondo finale is more vivacious than Burnett’s but less humorous. The brilliance and floridity of display come across vividly but Burnett finds more reflective elements by way of contrast. The episodes with running semiquavers are real hothouses of virtuoso swagger and Schornsheim is authentically more ostentatious in decorating the fermatas, where the music comes to a pause, which Burnett leaves plain. Schornsheim also provides more decoration in the repeats. Yet she misses Burnett’s grace in the simpler elaboration of the rondo theme.

Next comes the Sonata in A. The opening movement (tr. 4) first theme is a forthright proposition floridly elaborated. The second theme (0:36) is like the same personality in thoughtful mood but with a skittish tail. The development (3:28) is more mercurial, the second theme now more reflective, while Burnett demonstrates skilled negotiation of ornamentation is an integral part of the expression. The recapitulation (5:10) is more ethereal, partly because in higher register. And what a lovely refined sheen the Rosenburger fortepiano has here. Burnett presents the whole movement seamlessly as well as giving it character.

For the second movement Minuet (tr. 5) Burnett finds a gentle lilting flow, aided by the fortepiano’s moderator, with just a little dance pointing. And a mite more when lingering a touch longer at the repeated apex of phrases, most of all in the da capo at 1:58. The trio starts perkier, then falls under the spell of the overall mood before rejuvenating. It all sounds a natural experience but the score shows Haydn’s clever musical trick. This is a Minuet and Trio ‘al Rovescio’. The second strain of both is simply the first strain played backwards. A musical palindrome.

The finale (tr. 6) is fast and shimmering. Again it allows Burnett to make colourful use of the Rosenberger fortepiano’s moderator for a suddenly softer descending cascade in the repeated second section at 0:35, followed in the next descent at 0:38 with the sustaining mechanism getting louder.


Here are the comparative timings with Schornsheim for the Sonata in A major.Welcom


Timings   

I

II   

III

tt     

Burnett

6:40

2:11 

0:46

9:37

Schornsheim

6:20

1:56 (1:38)

0:51

9:07 (8:49)

In the first movement first theme Schornsheim is firmer and more serious and intent in the second, so its humorous close makes a rather odd contrast. The overall effect from Schornsheim’s Dulcken fortepiano is grander, more powerful, brittle and sober. But I miss the singing grace and almost balletic quality Burnett’s Rosenberger brings to the second theme, accommodating its contrasts as if part of one rounded individual.

Schornsheim’s Minuet and Trio are livelier, unlike Burnett with ornamentation added for the repeats, but hectic. Again, unlike Burnett, Schornsheim makes the repeats also in the da capo. You don’t feel the leaping character of original dance steps as with Burnett who is always more beguiling on the ear. Burnett’s finale is, unusually, faster than Schornsheim’s but doesn’t feel so because of his lighter approach, though still brilliant and with dynamic contrast. Schornsheim is more forceful, especially in making the final descents louder in the first strain and the repeat of the second.

Now Burnett on this Amon Ra disc turns to the English Broadwood piano for two of Haydn’s three English sonatas. In the Sonata in C you can feel Haydn as well as Burnett exploiting its fuller sonorities and dynamic contrasts. Here’s an instrument with powerful impact. The first movement (tr. 7) first theme is robust. With a clipped descending figure incorporating short silences as its basis, Haydn is able to extend it both horizontally and vertically, with brilliant embellishments, as if the theme comes with variations inbuilt. Not until 1:34 does a second theme of maturity and tenderness attach itself as a kind of comment on a variant of the first theme. The development from 4:33 is very much a world of its own, rather dark, probing and penetrating.

Similarly the highly ornamental nature adds to the intensity of the expressive slow second movement. Haydn isn’t concerned to write a lovely melody but to use articulate surroundings to make it grow in response. For all that and unexpectedly it can become tellingly inward, as in the reprise at 3:35 and coda. But it’s an intellectual rather than soulful expressiveness with an element of experimentation about it you find throughout this sonata. Most of all in the quick finale, which is a kind of manic Minuet, stopping in mid flight, laced with hectic running quavers, triumphant arpeggios and developing pauses as an integral feature.


Here are the comparative timings with Schornsheim for the Sonata in C major.Welcom


Timings   

I

II   

III

tt     

Burnett

8:56

5:55 

2:44

17:35

Schornsheim

11:26 (7:37)

4:53

2:20

18:39 (15:16)

Schornsheim misleadingly looks slower because, unlike Burnett, she observes the post exposition repeat in the first movement. The bracketed entries show the direct comparison. Schornsheim plays this and the following Sonata in D also on a Broadwood fortepiano, one made in 1804. So there isn’t the earlier distinctiveness in piano sound, though her drier acoustic and/or recording makes her fortepiano sound more antique. Schornsheim’s first movement has a keener edge than Burnett’s. It’s more brittle and dramatic, even to the point of being histrionic, but the density of the accompanying figuration is given less attention than Burnett who integrates all the movement’s elements, musical and psychological, more successfully. On the other hand, to the slow movement Schornsheim brings more contrast between the rhetorical and lyrical aspects, clarifying and honouring the latter by slightly more expansive treatment. I prefer this approach as I do also her lighter, straightforward presentation of the finale which gives even more piquant effect to its disruptive pauses.

Finally on this Amon Ra disc comes the Sonata in D which seems the most experimental and modern in its terseness and kinetic energy, its sense of continuous evolution seamlessly presented by Burnett. The first movement is germinated from 2 contrasting phrases: a purposeful and buoyant one to which a graceful and carefree one responds. Then a beamingly songlike melody enters (tr. 10 0:23) never heard so fully again. Haydn focuses on the contrast between limpid and trenchant descents.

Nothing more left but a very fast finale of impulsive motion. Were it for orchestra it’d be a scherzo chasing its own tail. But Burnett shows it’s also a transformation from dun, low register beginnings via a cliffhanging precipitate pause to gold, triumphantly assured high register. Enjoy Burnett’s exuberant sforzandi, those sudden strong accents, and the closing peal yet again exploiting the Broadwood piano’s sonority.


Here are the comparative timings with Schornsheim for the Sonata in D major.Welcom


Timings   

I

II   

tt     

Burnett

4:20

1:51 

6:11

Schornsheim

4:12

1:44

5:56

I find Burnett’s slightly more leisurely manner preferable. In the first movement Schornsheim’s contrasts are less marked. The more lyrical material is neat but not as creamy and characterful as Burnett’s. Schornsheim’s more insistent progress, however, provides another type of seamlessness, one with initially more verve but becoming dreamier in the central part of the development, within which Burnett (tr. 10 2:00) still finds contrast. Schornsheim’s finale is marred by bruising sforzandi, like the application of hobnailed boots which injure the appreciation of forward pulse.

To sum up, time hasn’t diminished the quality of Burnett’s performances and the recording still sounds well. The only limiting factor is the full price tag for a CD which, matching its original LP release, plays for only 47 minutes. Amon Ra might like to consider Telarc’s practice of making selected earlier releases available at medium price without change of catalogue number or packaging.

Michael Greenhalgh

 


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