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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732 - 1809): "Sonatas for Violin and Fortepiano Hob. XVa - XV 31, 32"

Giuseppe Fausto Modugno, fortepiano; Alberto Bologni, violin

rec: Jan 12 - 13, 2009, Imola, Palazzo Monsignani-Sassatelli
Concerto - CD 2048 ( 2009) (63'16")

Sonata in B flat (H XVa,1); Sonata in D (H XVa,2); Sonata in C (H XVa,3); Trio (Sonata) in E flat minor (H XV,31); Trio (Sonata) in G (H XV,32)

The sonatas for keyboard and violin by Mozart and Beethoven belong to the standard repertoire for this scoring. But where is Haydn? He inspired both Mozart and Beethoven with his piano trios and string quartets, but why didn't he contribute to this genre?

Well, he did. Two of his trios for keyboard, violin and cello were originally written without a part for the cello. It is therefore certainly legitimate to perform the Sonatas in E flat minor and in G major with only keyboard and violin as on this disc. That is not all. In the programme notes to his recording of all Haydn's piano trios (Brilliant Classics) the Dutch fortepiano specialist Bart van Oort has stated that virtually all piano trios can be performed without the participation of a cello. In a live performance the cello is needed to support the relative weak bass of the fortepiano and add some colour to the ensemble. But for the realisation of the musical material the cello is not really needed.

This offers an interesting perspective for players like Giuseppe Fausto Modugno and Alberto Bologni. They could have added some of the piano trios to the Sonatas H XV, 31 and 32. But instead they have chosen three sonatas whose authenticity seems not to be established, even though they are convinced they were written by Haydn. In a way this choice is to be applauded. Compositions of doubtful authenticity are seldom played and recorded. That is also the case with the three sonatas catalogued as H XVa. But as their musical quality is far less doubtful than their authenticity one may be thankful that they are available on disc now.

What all these sonatas have in common is that the keyboard has the lead, and that the violin is largely reduced to doubling one of the lines of the keyboard. This, of course, is mostly the right hand, but sometimes the violin plays with the bass line of the keyboard part. Only now and then it follows its own path. There is nothing special about this: in sonatas of this kind in Haydn's time this was the rule rather than the exception.

The artists give technically good performances and play with passion and zest, and there is also no lack of drama where it is required. That should be reason enough to recommend this disc. But I have two serious reservations.
Firstly, I think the choice of the fortepiano was a mistake. Giuseppe Modugno plays an instrument which was made by Johann Schantz in 1815. This instrument is far too modern for this repertoire. Considering the development of the fortepiano in that time this instrument is hardly more 'authentic' in Haydn than a modern concert grand. In addition, the Sonatas in E flat minor and in G major were written for the English pianist Therese Jansen, who will have used an instrument with English rather than Viennese action.
Secondly, this is chamber music and needs the intimacy of the salon, but that is a quality sorely mssing here. It seems this recording has been made in a large space and that results in a unnaturally big sound and far too much reverberation. The recording level is also quite high, so one is well advised to turn down the volume control, in particular when listening through headphones.

I nevertheless commend them to your attention, mainly because of the repertoire. It is wise to listen to a couple of tracks before purchase. This way you can decide for yourself whether the choice of the fortepiano and the quality of the recording are bothering you as much as they did me.

Johan van Veen ( 2010)

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