in D (Christa Landon 39/Hoboken 24)
in B minor (47/32)
in A flat (31/46)
in C sharp minor (49/36)
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
Recorded 6-8 October 2009 in Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, UK
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: March 2010
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 10586
Duration: 67 minutes
The opening of the D major Sonata emerges here as a rattling toccata; somehow one feels there should be more wit and light and shade. Yet Jean Efflam Bavouzet’s technical fluency is impressive, his clarity admirable and his distinction of notation (not least of staccatos) exhaustive. But there’s an overall plainness that disconcerts in this of all composers. Yes, the slow movement is simply phrased and affecting for it, yet we sometimes seem in no-composer’s-land, a look-back to Domenico Scarlatti here or a Beethovenian prototype there; somehow Joseph Haydn doesn’t always emerge in his own right, it’s all rather straight and colour-less, missing out on Haydn’s capriciousness, his ability to surprise.
One might have expected Bavouzet to have more of a twinkle in his eye when playing this music, to relish Haydn’s whimsy. Maybe a big-boned and ‘serious’ approach has its own merits, yet even the finale of the B minor Sonata, played with devilish technique as it is, emerges as rapid-fire and little more. In this repertoire, we have been spoilt by such pianists as Alfred Brendel, Marc-André Hamelin and Alain Planès; they find a dimension of touch and expression in Haydn’s music that Bavouzet does not, and the pieces emerge as less interesting and less engaging than they should.
Not until the A flat Sonata does Bavouzet get into a flowering stride, really underlining the moderato marking of the first movement; here seriousness of intent (and, typically, the observance of most repeats) makes for something imposing and revealing – something of a revelation, in fact – which is aided by Bavouzet unashamedly using a modern grand piano to its fullest potential, and convincingly so. With a particularly searching and full-length Adagio (and a cadenza from Bavouzet himself) and a finale teeming with life, Bavouzet’s account of this work has one (re-)thinking about his whole approach, whether one can be too earnest in Haydn, unless it persuades of course; it does in this work. And the gruff opening to the C sharp minor Sonata arrests the attention, too, as do the contrasts of invention and dynamics that inform the relatively concentrated exposition. One can imagine more glee from the previously named pianists in this opening movement and in the ‘Scherzando’ that follows, but Bavouzet is certainly attuned to the rather sombre ‘Minuet’ that follows to complete this deliciously diverting score.
All of which, despite the immediate and faithful recorded sound, leaves us in mid-air as to Bavouzet’s credentials as a Haydn pianist. The next few years will tell us more, for Bavouzet is embarking on a Haydn series for Chandos; it’s a serious (that word again) undertaking for him as his own contribution to the booklet makes clear; as a thinking musician he makes some departures from Haydn’s text and is able to explain his reasoning. With his Haydn journey just beginning, it seems certain that Bavouzet has some fascinating observations to make on this inexhaustible music.