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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Keyboard Sonatas
No. 59 in E flat major, Hob. XVI:49 (1789-1790) [22:14]
No. 33 in C minor, Hob. XVI:20 (1771) [22:15]
No. 31 in A flat major, Hob. XVI:46 (1767-1770) [22:34]
No. 47 in B minor, Hob. XVI:32 (1774-1776) [14:14]
Enrique Bagaría (piano)
rec. 14-16 July 2015, Auditorio de Zaragoza, Sala Luis Galve, Zaragoza, Spain
Reviewed as a stereo DSD128 download from Eudora Records
Also available as EUD-SACD-1601
Pdf booklet included

Remarkably, the very first Eudora release I reviewed – Ricardo Gallén’s splendid set of Sor sonatas – became one of my Recordings of the Year in 2014. Not only is the music superbly played it’s also very well engineered; which is why I was delighted when Eudora responded – with commendable swiftness – to my request for access to their downloads. Their small catalogue offers a number of high-res options, ranging from two-channel MQA to stereo/multi-channel flac and DSD files. These recordings are also available as hybrid SACDs.

Barcelona-born Enrique Bagaría, who won the Maria Casals International Piano Competition in 2006, is new to me. However, the short booklet interview – in which he explains his choice of programme – confirms his abiding interest in these sonatas. The competition in this field is fierce, though, with Marc-André Hamelin (Hyperion) and Ronald Brautigam (BIS) well out in front. The latter’s 15-CD set of Haydn’s complete works for solo keyboard – played on a Paul McNulty fortepiano – was much praised by Kirk McElhearn. (Incidentally, my references here are to the standalone issues, not to the repackaged ones in the big box.) Of Hamelin’s three twofers Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 – played on a modern piano – have also been well received on these pages.

Haydn wrote 62 keyboard sonatas – Nos, 21 to 27 are lost – the four played here being were written between 1767 and 1790. Bagaría kicks of with No. 59, a work that, along with No. 31, he knows very well. Nos. 33 and 47 are more recent additions to his repertoire. He gives a playful, pointed and rhythmically pleasing account of the Allegro of No. 59. Poise and clarity define his Adagio e cantabile, which also has admirable shape and fluidity. As for the Finale it’s nicely phrased and scaled, its recurring figures paraded before us with a palpable sense of relish.

As expected the Eudora recording is wonderfully detailed and airy, its timbres true. After that sonic treat it’s not surprising that Hamelin’s account of No. 59 – from Vol. 2, recorded in 2008 – sounds a bit diffuse. What is surprising, though, is the playing, which is uncharacteristically reticent. Hamelin’s also mannered at times – even awkward – and that’s quite at odds with the direct, open-faced nature of the piece. Brautigam is much to be preferred here, and although the pianoforte softens the music’s edges deftness or detail are pretty well preserved.

I do like Bagaría’s emphasis on precision in No. 59 – that brings its own rewards – but I find Brautigam’s easeful, affectionate approach much more engaging. I’m not suggesting that Bagaría is aloof or lacks feeling, just that Brautigam digs deeper, unearthing more colour and variety than either of his rivals do. Indeed, he taps a wellspring of warmth that’s almost Romantic in its expressive range and emotional intensity. Even if you’re not a fan of the fortepiano – it’s a relatively small sound and the bass isn’t so well rounded – you’ll find much to enjoy here. Ingo Petry’s 1998 recording, made in Sweden’s Länna Church, is very easy on the ear.

Bagaría’s performance of No. 33 is most attractive – the fretwork of the Moderato is beautifully executed – but his vocal accompaniment is a distraction. Otherwise, he plays with intelligence and a sure sense of style. The Andante con moto is lovely, despite the vocalising, and in the Allegro I was struck by the Barcelonian’s attention to balance and phrasal relationships. And how deft he is in the opening movement of No. 31, the sound startling in its accuracy and presence. Any caveats about the latter performance? A little more give in the Adagio perhaps. That said, I can’t fault his spirited Finale.

Despite Hamelin’s lacklustre response to No. 59 he makes amends with a thoroughly agreeable account of No. 33 (Vol. 3). The Moderato and Andante con moto are elegantly done and the Finale has plenty of sparkle. Then again that instalment – recorded in 2011 – sounds much more assured than the earlier ones. Hamelin hasn’t recorded Nos. 31 and 47, so direct comparisons aren’t possible here. As far as I know Hyperion have no plans to record more of these sonatas with Hamelin, but I’ll be in the queue if they do.

As for Brautigam’s performances of Nos. 31 and 33 – on Vols. 5 and 7 respectively – they’re utterly engrossing. How spontaneous the music sounds, the period instrument giving the Adagio of No. 31 a soft glow that’s just gorgeous. Indeed, the fortepiano lends an antic air to the music that seems most apt. If anything, Brautigam’s performance of No. 33 has even more of the ‘clatter and clang’ that one associates with the harpsichord. That won’t please those who prefer the sound of a modern piano, but in mitigation the playing has an irrepressible energy that neither Hamelin nor Bagaría can match.

Surprisingly Bagaría’s clean, very analytical approach to No. 47 is not that different from Brautigam’s (Vol. 5). The Barcelonian may give the music a brighter, more jewelled aspect, but both pianists bring out the almost pedagogic rigour of this compact little piece (it lasts for 14-15 minutes). As before Brautigam is a little more pliant in the slow movement – more expansive, even – but Bagaría always shines in the fast ones; indeed, his coruscating sign-off to No. 47 is a joy to hear.

If you’re serious about your Haydn Bagaría’s four sonatas are well worth acquiring. My only real criticism is the vocalising, but that may irk others much less than it did me. Sonically, though, Eudora’s up-to-the-minute DSD original is streets ahead of the otherwise decent BIS and Hyperion issues. In terms of sheer illumination Brautigam is a must-have; Hamelin probably has the broadest appeal.

Very likeable performances, superbly recorded; the vocal intrusions may be a drawback, though.

Dan Morgan

Previous review (SACD): Colin Clarke


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