Poised between CPE Bach and WA Mozart, the harpsichord and the developing piano, the Enlightenment and a prescience of romantic expressivness, the keyboard sonatas of Joseph Haydn occupy a special historic space. They are plentiful and often splendid examples of Haydn’s imaginative style, his innovative takes on structure and, not least, his unfailing intelligence, heart and wit.
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet has proved himself more than at home in this repertoire over his series of sonata recordings. This sixth volume, released earlier this year, offers a selection of pieces that, though not all are well known, emerge as a joy to listen to when played with so much spirit.
Opening with the ambitious B flat major Sonata, No.11, Bavouzet strikes a fine balance between the light-fingered ‘galant’ style of the mid 18th century and the expressive central movement, a brooding, haunting creation in which the melodic line’s variety of articulation and syncopations carries the music into a new and heartfelt realm. The E flat major Sonata No.43, dating from the early 1770s, is likewise deftly shaped: in music so spare and concentrated, Bavouzet injects personality into every note.
The last three sonatas here, Nos 34-36 (though not in that order) are likewise three-movement works: conventional enough on the surface, yet offering a warm embrace to nonchalant novelty. Bavouzet is able to make them simultaneously delicate and dramatic, while keeping parameters of 18th-century decorum in place to contain the appropriate stylistic traits on the modern piano.
Full of intelligence and a down-to-earth sensibility that takes Haydn on his own terms, Bavouzet’s are exemplary performances that should hopefully help to bring these underrated works to new audiences. Sound quality on the Flac download is superb.
Jessica Duchen’s music journalism has appeared in The Independent, The Guardian and The Sunday Times. She is the author of a number of novels (most recently Ghost Variations, published in 2016), biographies and plays. Current projects include an opera libretto for composer Roxanna Panufnik (for Garsington Opera 2017). Her popular blog JDCMB has run since 2004.