Joseph Haydn Piano Sonatas Vol.3 (piano: Jean-Efflam Bavouzet) Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

Insightful recordings which considerably further the cause of greater Haydn appreciation.

Graham Rogers 2011

Haydn wrote around 50 keyboard sonatas over a period spanning nearly as many years, from the early 1750s through to the mid 1790s – most of his professional life. Few of them have become part of the mainstream piano repertory, no doubt partly because – like those of his contemporary Mozart – Haydn’s sonatas are often more intimate and less immediately ear-catching than, say, his symphonic music. Yet they are composed with consummate skill, and are full of an inventive panache that deserves to be more widely known.

This is the third volume of enterprising French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet's projected complete survey of Haydn sonatas for Chandos. Rather than present them in chronological order (which would result in too unvaried a listening experience, and not do the largely unfamiliar music any favours), Bavouzet has chosen to select what he delightfully terms "complimentary 'bouquets' of works" for each album in the series. Thus, this latest volume contrasts the bright-and-breeziness of the early Sonata No.16 in D (from around 1765) with the relative weight and seriousness of No.33 in C minor (probably from 1771). The programme opens with the assertive fanfare-like motifs of No.29 in E flat (1766), and is completed with No.42 in G (1774), the most mature offering here, laden with gallant charm.

Bavouzet makes persuasive intellectual and emotional cases for textual decisions such as "saving" coda passages for second repeats only. What he does not mention, however, is the most significant choice of all: to play the sonatas on a modern grand piano; most of them, almost certainly all of those included here, were written for harpsichord. Consequently, in trying not to trample their delicate structures with heavy-booted pianism, Bavouzet sometimes fall into the hard-to-avoid trap of under-characterisation: they could do with a little more flamboyancy to bring them to life more engagingly. Generally, however, his nimble, crisp and thoughtful playing nicely balances the need to treat the music seriously without overstatement. Bavouzet says, with admirable passion, that his mission is to convey the "boundless treasures" of this music as vividly as possible to 21st century ears and, on the whole, he succeeds very well. These insightful recordings considerably further the cause of greater Haydn appreciation.

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