Comprehensive information is given in the booklet, where, with the utmost clarity, Marc Vignal explains the complications of the numbering of Haydn’s keyboard Sonatas. The system used here is from the accurate catalogue by Christa Landon while retaining Hoboken’s numerals. Vignal then gives a most perceptive analysis of the works recorded and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet contributes a further essay on the subject, describing his thinking behind the interpretations.
His is a personal approach to Haydn yet it never stands in the way of the composer’s intentions. Sonata No.11 (Landon) dates from around 1760 and is considerably earlier than the companion works here. It would doubtless have been performed on the harpsichord. Modern artists tend to take this into consideration; the solution adopted by John McCabe in his complete set of the Sonatas was to be direct and clear, avoiding use of the sustaining pedal and not finessing the dynamics. Bavouzet has a different approach: he plays the music in such a way that makes the piano seem the natural instrument but this does not detract from the ‘period’ style; it merely makes the music seem to be later. Interestingly there is little difference in tempo between Bavouzet and McCabe. Those owning the older set need not be surprised by differences in timing because Bavouzet is extremely generous with repeats. The divergence is one of phrasing – for example the Minuet has a Trio full of subtleties. It could be argued that the changes of dynamic on restatements of sections might equate to changes of registration on a harpsichord. Less authentic is Bavouzet’s omission of the last two notes – a nineteenth- or twentieth-century habit.
The order of performance is more to do with a satisfactory key sequence and juxtaposition of mood than with chronology. The latest of these Sonatas – 43 – follows and Bavouzet takes the opening Allegro moderato boldly. Mysteriously the booklet annotation quotes five successive tempos for this movement – the score gives only one and that is how it is performed. This is a good example of how Bavouzet uses decorations; he is very positive about it in his written note but in fact his additions are more modest than he suggests. His added ornaments are acceptable on a second-time through of a passage and at pauses there is often a flourish or two; they are not really “cadenzas” although that is how the pianist refers to them.
The very simplicity of the middle movement of No.35 is fetching – unusually it is described as “Minuetto I – Minuetto II”. The following Presto dashes forward precipitately and the few added ornaments are amusing yet tasteful. Both here and in the opening Allegro of No.34 the accompanying information prints bewildering different tempo indications which I cannot see in any score. Bavouzet commences the development section with a bold chord but on the repeat is quiet and gentle; for him a repetition is an opportunity to give an alternative reading of a significant phrase. Coming after a deeply felt and beautifully played Adagio, the concluding Minuet will be familiar to every beginner – but the novice will not have been asked to continue with the succeeding Variations with their many flurries of scales.
The selection ends with the positive Sonata 36 – no Minuet this time – the outer movements played briskly. There is Classical coolness in the Adagio where Haydn writes much decorative passagework and Bavouzet makes no decorative additions – they would not have been suitable. The bright Finale is played with much sprightliness. I certainly forgive the mini-cadenza near the end of the second repeat when Bavouzet muses thoughtfully for a moment before the concluding forty seconds sum up the Sonata triumphantly.
This is eighteenth-century music but the detailed recording makes the use of a Yamaha piano entirely acceptable; this is very realistic sound.