Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Sonata in E-flat Major, Hob.XVI:49 (1789) [18:24]
Piano Sonata in B-flat Major, Hob.XVI:41 (1784) [10:59]
Piano Sonata in B Minor, Hob.XVI:32 (1774-76) [14:34]
Piano Sonata in E Major, Hob.XVI:31 (1774-76) [12:26]
Piano Sonata in C Major, Hob.XVI:50 (1794) [15:44]
Chad R. Bowles (piano)
rec. November 2008, University of West Florida Music Hall, Pensacola, Florida, USA

I was not impressed by Chad R. Bowles' recording of these Haydn sonatas. Haydn's piano music is not about virtuosity or drama. What makes it very special are the nuances. They are not spelt out in the notes; they ought to be felt. And they are not. The first movement of the E-flat Major Sonata (No.49) already shows it: all is on one level, with reduced contrast and restricted emotion. I understand that Haydn was not a Romantic - but does it mean he should be boring? One minute like this is fine; seven are not. The slow movement is actually good - with breathing and tenderness; the minor-mode episode is impressive but the finale is again rather plain.

And so it goes with the other sonatas. Technically, they are well played but I cannot imagine someone falling in love with this music based on this recording. The first movement of the B-flat Major (No.41) sounds as if played on a loud clavichord and does not differ a lot character-wise from the second movement. It quickly became tedious, and I was glad when it was over.

The B Minor Sonata (No.32) fares much better. It is still a bit tiring, but there is more air to breathe, more of Haydn's charm. The restrained sadness of the first movement is like a siciliana; and the minuet is gentle and playful. It is partially spoilt by the hard-driven finale, but still the overall impression is positive.

The first movement of No.31 is too fast for a Moderato. So it becomes just another in a row of staccato allegrettos when it could have been really special. I had to remind myself it was not Scarlatti. For the following Allegretto Bowles slows down - and it is good. Suddenly there is emotion, light and shade, and misty depths. The finale is alive and sympathetic. The last sonata starts with another staccato allegretto! It's as faceless as the others. The development section arouses some interest, which is then lost in the recapitulation. The Adagio is played Andante. Still, it is done gently and carefully. The "memory lapse" finale is fun, but regrettably short.

This disc has had glowing reviews elsewhere. I most heartily disagree. In my opinion, buying this disc as the first could well end with it being the last. I know it's a trend. I know Andsnes did the same and was praised. I know I have no right to tell people what to do with their Haydn. I know all these things. I just share my listening experience and feelings: this is not my cup of Haydn! Recently I reviewed a disc by Ronan O'Hora - now that could be a good introduction!

Mr. Bowles' playing is muscular, well articulated, energetic and precise. He presents the counterpoint with clarity and balance. I would love to hear him play Scarlatti. The recording quality is excellent. The piano is closely recorded, which goes well with the pianist's approach. The sound is full and smooth, and staccato is well caught. The insert notes have two pages about Chad Bowles and two pages of Chad Bowles talking about why he decided to record Haydn. I admire his decision, but not the result.

Oleg Ledeniov