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Keyboard music by Haydn and his pupils

[I] Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732 - 1809): "Piano Sonatas"
Kristian Bezuidenhout, fortepiano
rec: Sept 2017, Haarlem (NL), Doopsgezinde Kerk
Harmonia mundi - HMM 902273 ( 2019) (68'22")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet
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Divertimento (Partita) in G (H XVI,6); Sonata in C (H XVI,48); Sonata in c minor (H XVI,20); Variations in f minor (H XVII,6); Variations on 'Gott, erhalte Franz den Kaiser' (after H III,77/2)

[II] "Joseph Haydn and his London Disciples"
Rebecca Maurer, fortepiano
rec: March 7 - 10, 2018, Salzburg, Irnberger Foundation
Genuin - GEN 19650 ( 2019) (79'04")
Liner-notes: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet
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Thomas HAIGH (1769-?1808): Fantaisie for the Piano Forte; Sonata II in B flat, op. 10,2; Three Canzonettas of Dr. Haydn's Arranged as Rondos for the Piano Forte; Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809): Sonata in C (H XVI,50); Sonata in E flat (H XVI,52); Christian Ignatius LATROBE (1758-1836): Sonata I in A, op. 3,1 (lente)

Sources: Christian Ignatius Latrobe, Three Sonatas for the Pianoforte, op. 3, 1791; Thomas Haigh, A Second Sett of Three Sonatas, for the Piano Forte or Harpsichord, op. 10, 1796

Score Haigh, op. 10
Scores Haydn

Kristian Bezuidenhout is one of the most prominent players of historical pianos, who frequently performs music from the classical and the early romantic period. One composer only sporadically appears on his concert programmes: Joseph Haydn. That is no coincidence, as he explains in his personal notes to his first disc devoted to Haydn's keyboard music. "It is fair to say - in a spirit of total honesty - that I have never had the same sort of relationship with Haydn's music as I have had with Mozart's. (...) I think perhaps if you had asked me a few years ago, I might have secretly agreed with Richard Wigmore's words: 'Yet even today Haydn aficionados still tend to speak of their man with a hint of defensiveness or special pleading, aware that for the wider musical public Mozart still wins hands down. His finest instrumental works, for all their intellectual and expressive virtuosity, have relatively little of Mozart's sensuous allure'. When harmonia mundi sounded me out about the possibility of recording a disc of Haydn piano music, I decided to confront those prejudices once and for all and to find a way into this remarkable body of music."

He did so by turning to some major products of scholarship, such as those by his colleague Tom Beghin, who recorded Haydn's complete works for Naxos after long and thorough research of the music and performance practice. Another one is a monograph by Annette Richards, devoted to the fantasia and its place in 18th-century music. These sources helped Bezuidenhout to get a grip on the character of Haydn's keyboard works and the way they should be interpreted. "Haydn now becomes allied in my mind with the north German culture of Empfindsamkeit and to what James Webster so aptly describes as 'compositional improvisation' or, led to its logical conclusion, the idea of 'improvisational style as a rhetorical device'".

These insights lead to an interpretation whose feature is the marriage of rhetorics and improvisation. That comes to the fore, for instance, in a speech-like phrasing and articulation as well as in the treatment of dynamics. The improvisatory aspect manifests itself especially in a differentiated approach to tempo. Subtle reductions of speed result in a considerable increase of tension. Such things show that Haydn's keyboard works are probably not as fundamentally different from Mozart's as many music lovers may think. From the angle of interpretation, this disc deserves a strong recommendation. Bezuidenhout's performances are often quite exciting, and at the end of his notes, he hints at further recordings. That is something we should look forward to.

Unfortunately, the recommendation of this disc does not come without a big BUT. That concerns the choice of instrument. This is one of the most problematic aspects of the performance of keyboard music of the 18th century, and in particular of the second half, when the fortepiano established itself. For most of that period, the harpsichord and the fortepiano coexisted. It is not always possible to decide for which of the two a composer wrote his keyboard works. Moreover, both instruments were the subject of constant change. The fortepiano of the 1770s, for instance, is quite different from that of about twenty years later. Harpsichord makers didn't give up the ghost that easily, and tried to add devices which could make the instrument compatable with the fortepiano. Then we have to keep in mind that other instruments also played their part, such as the clavichord, the tangent piano and the square piano. Bezuidenhout does not care very much for 'historically correct' instruments. Recently, he did not bother to perform one of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's harpsichord concertos of the late 1740s on a fortepiano from the early 19th century. And he is not alone: too often Mozart's keyboard concertos, which were written over a period of more than twenty years, are performed and recorded on one and the same instrument, as if nothing did change in fortepiano building during that time.

Here Bezuidenhout plays a copy of a Walter piano of 1805. That is not the most appropriate instrument for Haydn's Variations in f minor of 1793, but even less so for the Partita in G, which dates from 1766. It is also known as Divertimento, and is part of a number of pieces in the galant idiom, which were undoubtedly intended for the harpsichord. Bezuidenhout was inspired by the research of Tom Beghin, but it seems that he has not studied the liner-notes to the latter's Naxos recording, which includes much information about Haydn's keyboard instruments. One thing is for sure: Haydn embraced the fortepiano relatively late, and it seems likely that only the pieces from the 1780s onwards are conceived for the fortepiano.

Rebecca Maurer, who recorded two sonatas from Haydn's London period and pieces by some of his English admirers and pupils, is much more aware of the importance of the instruments to be used for a performance of keyboard music. The booklet includes an interview in which she is asked: "The repertoire of this CD dates back to the 1790s, but the Broadwood piano used for the recording was built in 1816, over twenty years later. Does this pose an issue for a historically-informed recording?" Her answer: "Not from a historical performance practice point of view. Compared to the Viennese piano building of the time, there were no major developments in piano building in England during those twenty years. The musicologist in me could thus enter the recording sessions 'with a clear conscience'...".

She then explains that the difference between an instrument with English action and one with Viennese action has left its mark in the way Haydn composed for the keyboard. She points out that the Viennese edition of the Sonata in E flat differs from the London first edition. "Whereas the slurs are longer in the latter in the quest for long melodic lines, in the Viennese edition, following the more 'rhetorical' ideal, they are often shorter." This is not just a matter of historical correctness: "[It] does in fact have an effect on the interpretation, however subtle."

The programme Rebecca Maurer has recorded, is very interesting. Haydn's two sonatas included here are among his most frequently-performed, and they have been recorded on the appropriate instruments before. The rest of the programme is almost entirely new to the catalogue. The main figure is Thomas Haigh who was active as a player of the fortepiano and the violin. He was particularly known for his arrangements of compositions by old and more recent masters, such as Corelli, Handel, Mozart and Rossini. He also arranged symphonies and opera overtures by Haydn, whom he admired and whose pupil he was. There was a large demand for such arrangements, as amateurs from the higher echelons of society liked to play at home the music they had heard in the concert hall. Among Haydn's most popular works from his English period were the canzonettas. Even today they are regularly performed, whereas Haydn's German songs are largely ignored. The programme includes three of those canzonettas in Haigh's arrangements for pianoforte solo.

However, Haigh also wrote original works, although they show Haydn's influence. Here we hear two pieces which again include arrangements of compositions by others. The Fantaisie for the Piano Forte has the addition "in which is introduced 'God save the Emperor'". The song Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser is here mixed with fragments from Haydn's Symphony No. 103, nicknamed 'Drumroll', and a country dance. The Sonata in B flat is the second from a set of three, which Haigh published in 1796 as his Op. 10. It comprises two movements, the second of which - an allegretto in the form of a rondo - is an arrangement of an aria by the Italian composer Bonifazio Asioli (1769-1832).

The third composer in the programme is Christian Ignatius Latrobe, who spent some time in Moravia, where he studied theology. Back home in England, he was active in the Moravian Church, but also as a composer. Especially Haydn's Stabat mater made a strong impression on him. He became personally acquainted with Haydn through Charles Burney in 1791. That year he published three sonatas for the pianoforte as his Op. 3, which he dedicated to Haydn. The influences of his hero manifest themselves in these sonatas, but in a more subtle and less obvious way than in the works by Haigh.

Returning to the choice of instrument: although the Broadwood is stylistically appropriate, it seems unlikely, as the liner-notes say, that the pieces by Haigh and Latrobe were conceived for such a large instrument, unlike the sonatas by Haydn. The latter were intended for performance in the concert hall, whereas the former were written for domestic performance. Amateurs at home often played a square piano. It would have been interesting to hear such an instrument here, in order to underline the difference in weight, as it were, between the two categories of pieces in this programme.

Considering all the positive aspects of this disc, this is a relatively minor issue. Rebecca Maurer fully explores the possibilities of the Broadwood, which results in colourful and dynamically differentiated performances. This disc is an ideal combination of music, instrument and interpretation.

Johan van Veen ( 2019)

Relevant links:

Kristian Bezuidenhout
Rebecca Maurer


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