Joseph HAYDN (1732–1809)
Sonata in C major, Hob. XVI/48 (1789) [12:56]
Sonata in G major, Hob. XVI/40 (1784) [9:49]
Sonata in D major, Hob. XVI/19 (1767)* [21:18]
Sonata in D major, Hob. XVI/42 (1784) [11:39]
Andante and variations in F minor, Hob. XVII/6 (1793) [17:05]
Carole Cerasi (fortepiano, clavichord*)
rec. Weston Parish Church, Hertfordshire 5 June 2009; Dyrham Park 17-18 June 2009(*)

METRONOME MET CD 1085 [72:52]

Excellent as Carole Cerasi’s playing is on this disc - and excellent as is the music by Haydn which she is performing! - it is not unfitting to begin by acknowledging that some of the disc’s fascination is also owed to the two instruments she plays. The fortepiano heard on most of the tracks is an instrument made by Johann Schantz, around 1795, and owned by the Holburne Museum of Art in Bath. The clavichord was made in 1998 by Karin Richter after an instrument of around 1771, made by Christian Gottlob Hubert. Visitors to Bath may remember that the instrument by Schantz (who worked in Vienna) is handsomely veneered in yew and has gilt metal mounts; it has a compass of five octaves and a third (FF to a3). From FF to B1 flat there are two strings to a note, while the rest is trichord. Christian Gottlob Hubert (1714-93) was of Polish origin and by 1771 he was court instrument maker at Ansbach. He became particularly famous as a maker of clavichords. This modern copy of an instrument by Hubert – the work of British maker Karin Richter – has a compass from FF-f3 and sounds delightful.

Cerasi’s skills, no doubt, contribute to the lovely sound made by both instruments. She shows a profound sympathy with the nature of Haydn’s writing for the keyboard. The works selected have in common - in the case of the sonatas - a variation movement, and the programme closes with the Andante and Variations in F minor. In the works played on the fortepiano Cerasi’s contrasts of colour are striking, the accents by turns subtly delicate and stirringly powerful. There is a sense of intimacy to the whole programme, and to the recorded sound; but it is not an intimacy achieved at the cost of forcefulness and expressiveness. These are performances which make one think again about Haydn as a composer for the keyboard; much as I have enjoyed many modern recordings of Haydn on the modern piano, this is a recording which makes me conscious again of how much has been lost - as well as of some things that have been gained - in the process of such ‘translation’.

The Sonata in G major emerges as a work of remarkable musical impudence. Its first movement, marked ‘allegretto innocentemente’, may have a kind of innocent playfulness and joy about it, but the mind that underlies it is thoroughly sophisticated, as Haydn runs disruptive offbeat accents across its forward movement and builds variations on two contrasting themes. The presto that follows is cheekiness incarnate, full of humour and of unexpected leaps and transitions, of syncopation and witty variations. The Sonata in D major is a master-class in musical invention – not least in the opening movement (‘andante con espressione’), a set of three, increasingly decorated variations. There’s an arresting use of eloquent pauses in the second movement, a lyrical core wittily dismissed (or so it seems) at the end. The Sonata in C major is altogether grander in manner, its opening andante contriving to be both noble and offhand, in a manner which few composers other than Haydn can manage. The rondo which follows sounds like - but obviously isn’t - a piano transcription of an orchestral work and Cerasi revels in its keyboard possibilities. Her playing in all of these sonatas is of the highest order, the readings fully coherent, carefully structured yet responsive to Haydn’s occasionally whimsical inventiveness.

Perhaps Cerasi’s most remarkable playing comes in the Andante con variazione, played with great dignity at its beginning. This is entirely without pomposity or inflation but with powerful expressiveness, and where needed with a precise fierceness, before closing on a final chord of bitter-sweet beauty. The combination of particular instrument and particular performer has here resulted in as fine and memorable a performance of this significant work of Haydn’s as I can remember hearing.

The copy of Hubert’s clavichord is used in the far earlier Sonata in D major. Relatively early it may be, but it is everywhere marked by Haydn’s compositional intelligence. The opening moderato has a subtlety of construction which at times has an almost improvisatory quality. The firm delicacy of the instrument and of Cerasi’s touch captures to perfection the sense of contained power in this music. The central andante is full of rapid leaps between registers and, under Cerasi’s fingers emerges as a grand slow movement with more than a few orchestral touches; it has been suggested that this may actually be a transcription. The allegro which closes this relatively neglected work combines rondo and variations, some of the variations being particularly brilliant.

This is a fine recital; all who have already realised that Haydn’s writing for keyboards hides almost as many delights as the better known symphonies and string quartets will surely want to hear it. Listeners who haven’t yet made that discovery could do worse than start here.

Glyn Pursglove

A thoroughly rewarding programme, superbly played on two fascinating instruments… see Full Review