Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Sonatas - Vol. 3
Sonata No. 29 in E flat major, Hob. XVI: 45 (1766) [22:35]
Sonata No. 33 in C minor, Hob. XVI: 20 (1771) [25:38]
Sonata No. 42 in G major, Hob. XVI: 27 (before 1776) [13:10]
Sonata No. 16 in D major, Hob. XVI: 14 (before 1767; 1760?) [13:57]
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 16-18 May 2011, DDD.
CHANDOS CHAN 10689 [75:22]

This is the third CD of Jean-Efflam Bavouzetís Haydn piano sonatas cycle. Sonata 29 makes a good beginning to the disc because of its deceptive simplicity. Left hand imitates the right but with both contributors managing to achieve an interesting variance. What struck me immediately was the tripping, dance quality of Haydnís musical argument. This Bavouzet brings out through his ever-fluent, pacy projection with clarity and brightness. Youíre very conscious of the progression of the exposition as an expansive, integrated paragraph but with, all along, sinewy application of rhythm. Bavouzet makes clear the paradox of this movement: that itís structurally formal but homely in ambience and playful in approach.

I compared the classic recording by John McCabe, part of his complete cycle made in the late 1970s (London 443 785-2). McCabe cultivates a smoother, more lyrical line and very much clarifies the contributions of the left and right hands. With McCabe you feel that this illuminates how a Haydn sonata of 1766 operates. With Bavouzet the interplay between the hands is more of a jocular conversation, of quip and counter-quip. Unlike McCabe, Bavouzet observes Haydnís marking of the repeat of the second half of the movement. This gives the whole more balance and substance. He also introduces in the repeat a judicious application of ornamentation. Moreover he generates such a fecund momentum that you think what accomplished music and playing this is. McCabe plays well but Bavouzet excites.

Bavouzetís slow movement is smoothly flowing, lyrical and ornate. At the climax of its second part for a short spell it becomes more intense and keenly felt before returning to the earlier calm. McCabeís even tone throughout is more dispassionate and classical in manner than Bavouzetís greater ostentation. That said, I did feel here that Bavouzet overdoes the ornamentation in his repeats and this diminishes the movementís gracefulness. The finale in Bavouzetís hands is a scamper of brittle brilliance, a bravura display of technique, dexterity, precise articulation. McCabe, nifty and sonorous by turns, is less dazzling but more witty.

Sonata 33 is also strikingly fluent in Bavouzetís hands and yet from the outset tinged with sadness and isolation. The second theme (tr. 4 0:25) starts purposefully but then expands into an aching second phrase. The third theme fragments into a series of writhing semiquavers calmed by a sudden, brief Adagio. This changes from high C flat to a sunnier C natural. The development (3:57) is more piercing because it features extended and taut imitation between right and left hand. The second theme elements appear in reverse order (5:18), emphasising the now more troubled perspective. The Adagio returns but ends on a high A flat which remains its grave self. In this sonata Bavouzet presents this all coolly and with objectivity.

Here I compared the recording by Julia Cload published in 2009 (Meridian CDE 84578/9-2). Cload takes a more measured view of the Moderato marking. She takes 12:36 in comparison with Bavouzetís 10:33. This creates a more desolate opening yet the two elements of the second theme are thereby less contrasted and Cloadís high C natural is less luminous. Bavouzet omits the coda until the repeat. This neatly allows the second half of the movement to end with the same dotted quaver + semiquaver/quaver aside that concludes the exposition but without the second halfís sombre retort. Cload supplies all the music both times.

The slow movement is pastoral in mood yet has a degree of rhapsodic passion within its classical frame; itís an Andante con moto. This Bavouzet brings out well, opening restfully yet effecting both keen contrast and equipoise between right and left hands. Particularly lovely is the sunny, limpid melody picked out (tr. 5 3:46) and gliding into the return of the climax of the opening theme. Cload, more leisurely, taking 9:02 against Bavouzetís 7:35, is slightly studied in her sensitively balanced luxuriant savouring. I prefer Bavouzetís cleaner approach to octave leaps, as in the B flats at 0:42, where Cload softens the high note.

Bavouzet parades the opening theme of the finale (tr. 6) with a waspish discipline, though the second theme (0:17) is briefly more laid back as is the exposition coda, but with a welter of scampering in between. The development (2:00) begins with an airier version of the first theme in the upper register. Bavouzet omits five bars from the coda in the first playing. What will strike you most about Bavouzetís account is his added material in the repeat, a 50 second cadenza from 5:47 including partial recall of themes and earlier contrasting moods. Itís a wonderful tour de force but arguably diverts attention from Haydnís climax of the development. This can be found at 5:29 second time where the left handís crotchet leaps and descents assert themselves with increasing passion against the continuous right hand semiquavers. That said, Bavouzet keenly realizes that climax too, especially from 3:17 first time. Cload in this movement is generally more turbulent and romantic yet also has a more lyrical climax, but with neither Bavouzetís commanding discipline nor his intensity of progression.

The cheery baroque flavour of the opening movement of Sonata 42 (tr. 7) is robustly carried off by Bavouzet, with the tail of the second theme from 0:42 made to sound zany. Bavouzet adds another cadenza, 7 seconds of fitting jocularity from 3:40, to usher in the recapitulation in the repeat of the movementís second half. The following Minuet, kept moving forward, is thereby elegant yet sufficiently crystalline not to be merely chintzy. It is later tempered by a surprisingly wistful Trio. The wit of the theme and four variations of the Presto finale is emphasised by Bavouzetís crisp and breathtakingly fast playing.

Whimsicality pervades Sonata 16 which is full of touches of the unexpected. The first movement begins fairly laid-back yet is melodiously worked and growingly intricate with the recapitulation stealthily slipping in. Bavouzet omits the codaís repeat of the closing five bars at lower register until he repeats the second half of the movement. Then a lively Minuet encases a surprisingly ethereal Trio. The finale (tr. 12) is a martial summons followed by cascades of semiquavers. In giving poised attention to the rare crotchet rests in both hands - especially in the development repeat from 2:18 - Bavouzet lets us stand apart and appreciate Haydnís invention. This is what his bold approach to interpretation does throughout. You may not agree with everything he does, but you know youíre in the presence of great playing.

Michael Greenhalgh

You may not agree with everything he does, but you know youíre in the presence of great playing.