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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Eight Early Sonatas
Sonata in G Major, Hob. XVI:6 (pre.1760) [16:29]
Sonata in E major, Hob. XVI:13 (early 1760s) [11:35]
Sonata in A major, Hob. XVI:12 (1755?) [10:54]
Sonata in E minor, Hob. XVI:47 (1765-57) [13:39]
Sonata in G minor, Hob. XVI:44 (1771-73) [14:12]
Sonata in A flat major, Hob. XVI:46 (1768-69) [23:41]
Sonata in D major, Hob. XVI:19 (1767) [21:45]
Sonata in C minor, Hob.XVI:20 (1771) [23:41]
Tuija Hakkila (Anonymous Viennese fortepiano ‘Bureau de musique Leipsic’, 1790s; copy by Andrea Restelli, of Gottfried Silbermann fortepiano (1747))
rec. 2019. Karjaa Church, Finland
ONDINE ODE1360-2D [66:49 + 69:07]

Quite non-musically, I fell in love with this pair of CDs before I had heard a note of it. Its booklet cover is a reproduction of a remarkably beautiful Still Life with Candle, by a painter I had never heard of and who didn’t appear in any of my art reference books, Nils Schillmark (1745-1804). The picture is said to be in the Finnish National Gallery in Helsinki. A search online reveals that Schillmark was born in Sweden, but after studying in Sweden (apprenticed to the artist Pehr Fjellstr÷m and joining him on journeys in Finland), he settled in Finland. The painting reproduced here has such a classical (I suppose one should say neo-classical) purity, coupled with an almost architectural strength (as does his Still Life with a Punch Bowl also in the Finnish National Gallery) that I wonder whether a later painter, Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964), one of the greatest modern masters of the still life, might not (somehow) have seen Schillmark’s paintings? Fortunately, the music on the discs did not disappoint. Indeed, whoever was responsible for the choice of Schillmark’s painting chose a work which is thoroughly apt for at least some of the music to be heard in this collection.

It is quite difficult to think about Haydn’s keyboard sonatas in a balanced way. They were overlooked and underestimated for so long that in more recent years, especially if (like me) you think that Haydn was one of the greatest of composers, there is an inclination to praise them intemperately by way of compensation, as it were. When one adds to this the uncertain dating of many of these works and, indeed, the fact that there are some problems of attribution, a fair assessment of them becomes very difficult. Here, of course there is, fortunately, no necessity to attempt an overview of the sonatas; but even in seeking only to respond to these performances of these eight sonatas, some of the same difficulties and temptations arise.

There is also, of course, the question of what instrument(s) these sonatas were written for/should be played on. Some were pretty certainly written for the harpsichord, some for the fortepiano; some, perhaps, for the clavichord. It is all too easy to get bogged down in the discussion of what instrument – any of the above three or the modern grand? – these sonatas should be played on. Some remarks by Howard Pollack seem to me eminently sensible. It may be that, as he has suggested, “with regard to this repertory, the very notion of a ‘correct’ instrument is something of a twentieth-century projection”. Pollack believes that “when it came to keyboard instruments, the eighteenth-century composer was more concerned with the qualities of a particular instrument, rather than the kind of instrument it was” (‘Some Thoughts on the “Clavier” in Haydn’s Solo Claviersonaten’, The Journal of Musicology, 9 (1), 1991, pp.74-91). I think we might be best served by letting performers make their own choices as to what specific instruments they use in performing these sonatas, viewed either individually or as a group. Tuja Hakkila has, for this disc, chosen to play the fortepiano – or to be more precise, two different fortepianos. For six of the eight sonatas in her programme she chooses an anonymous Viennese fortepiano from the 1790s; on two works (the Sonata in E major, Hob. XVI:13 and the Sonata in G minor, Hob. XVI:44) she plays a modern copy of a Gottfried Silbermann fortepiano of 1747. Her reason for choosing to play the copy of the Silbermann instrument in Hob. XV.13 is clear from her booklet note on the work: “This colourful triptych launches with a fanfare, signalling a hunt […] The tension ebbs and flows. There is a moment with the angelic sound of the dulcimer, uniquely available to fine effect on the Silbermann instrument.”. The Italianate style of the same instrument also makes it particularly suitable for the rather theatrical Sonata in G minor, Hob. XVI:44, which Hakkila aptly describes as being “like a scene from a play, a monologue delivered by a worried character”. Both the fortepianos Tuja Hakkila uses on this recording are attractive instruments and well-suited to the music played on them. My only reservation in this regard comes with the Sonata in G major, Hob. XVI.6, which might I suspect, have sounded more at home on the harpsichord, which instrument might have brought out its divertimento-like nature yet more vividly.

The disc’s title designates the works it contains as “early sonatas”. In Ms. Hakkila’s own words – “Haydn wrote all of these over a period of about 15 years before his 40th birthday”.

I have long thought that one of the finest and most memorable of Haydn’s keyboard sonatas is the Sonata in A flat major, Hob. XVI:46, which, I am glad to say, gets a generally fine performance here. The initial Allegro moderato is a large-scale movement and not just in length, being full of a certain majesty and grandeur. There are some interesting and striking passages in which both of the player’s hands are deployed in either the bass or treble clef – passages which emerge with pleasing clarity in this rendition, due both to the fine pianism of Tuija Hakkila and the quality of her Viennese fortepiano, maker unknown, but “similar to the ones built by Anton Walter” (Hakkila’s booklet notes). There is a thorough and perceptive analysis of this sonata in John McCabe’s Haydn’s Piano Sonatas (BBC Music Guides, 1986) and I won’t repeat here what he says better than I can. The central Adagio is flawlessly beautiful in its pathos and poignancy, its sense of profound thoughtfulness. Not inappropriately, Hakkila writes that this movement “is like the music of Orpheus from Gluck’s opera of that name” and her performance justifies that analogy. The finale, marked Presto, contrasts major and minor passages to considerable effect in a brilliant and lively contradance (though Tuija Hakkila perhaps doesn’t quite do full justice to this movement). But this substantial, intelligent and deeply emotional sonata makes one wonder why Haydn’s keyboard sonatas were neglected for so long. This sonata’s clear indebtedness to CPE Bach is balanced by things in it which are decidedly forward-looking, anticipating both Mozart and Beethoven. However, none of these comparisons/connections are meant to suggest that Hoboken CVI.46 is anything other than thoroughly typical of Haydn.

Composed around 1775, some 13 or 14 years before Hob. XVI.46, the Sonata in A major, Hob. XVI:12 is a work on an altogether smaller scale than the later sonata but it, too, has its attractions. It opens with an Andante in which the triplets of a gorgeous cantilena flow charmingly, but with an underlying sense of pain, from which tears are not far absent. It sounds particularly lovely on the fortepiano; I don’t think I have ever felt its beauty so completely when I have heard it played on a modern grand. The language of this movement is essentially simple. The same is true of the ensuing Menuet, though Haydn adds more ornaments here; the accompanying Trio unexpectedly involves syncopations in the right hand above a slowly shifting bass part, producing a decidedly distinctive effect. The final movement, allegro molto in 3/8, is full (almost overfull) of ideas which rush past the listener at a considerable pace. Tuija Hakkila’s reading of this intriguing sonata is impressive and engaging; she respects its essential modesty, while also enjoying, and making clear, Haydn’ varied inventiveness.

It is tempting to go on and discuss more of the sonatas on these discs, all of which have their attractions, but I hope I have said enough to make it clear that I find Tuija Hakkila to be a thoughtful and sensitive interpreter of Haydn. I very much prefer to hear these Haydn sonatas on a fortepiano rather than a modern concert grand, despite all the fine pianists who have now recorded Haydn’s piano sonatas on a modern piano, including John McCabe, Alfred Brendel, AndrÔs Schiff, Rudolf Buchbinder and Leon McCawley, to name but a few. For performances on fortepiano and other ‘period’ instruments my reference point remains the recordings of Ronald Brautigam. Where direct comparisons can be made, I think Tuija Hakkila loses very little in the comparison.

I hope this fine interpreter of Haydn will record more of his sonatas – perhaps works like Hob.XVI.50 and 52?

Glyn Pursglove
 



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