Haydn: Keyboard Sonatas, Hob. XVI:21, 22, 23 & 43

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Keyboard Sonatas, Hob. XVI:21, 22, 23 & 43
PERFORMER: Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD-1095
No ‘great’ Haydn here. But all four sonatas – three from the set of six published in 1773, and one (the

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A flat, Hob. XVI:43) from around 1780 – are full of delightful, unpredictable invention. Perhaps the C major (Hob. XVI:21), with its prompt, no-nonsense opening Allegro, does least to ruffle the listener’s expectations, though even here the finale indulges in some sly harmonic tricks. Elsewhere the finale of the relatively popular F major, Hob. XVI:23, develops its catchy contredanse tune with a wit and élan found in Haydn’s contemporary symphonies. Memorable, too, are the minor-key slow movements of the F major and E major sonatas, with their gentle, musing pathos – a vein Haydn rarely touched in his symphonies and quartets.

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Whether or not Haydn originally intended these sonatas for harpsichord – and the virtual absence of dynamic markings suggests that he did – they all gain from the nuances of dynamics and colour possible on the new fortepiano. Playing on an attractive (and beautifully recorded) copy of a 1790s instrument by Anton Walter, Ronald Brautigam reinforces his credentials as one of the most discerning Haydn pianists around. The faster movements are crisp and athletic, yet Brautigam is ever ready to flex the pulse at a structural crux or in response to a harmonic twist. Passagework – say, the brilliant, toccata-like figuration in the finale of the C major – is always gracefully and purposefully directed. And Brautigam shapes and times the slow movements with a vocal eloquence, using the sordino lever (the equivalent of the soft pedal) to telling effect in the Adagio of the F major. In fact, my only real bugbear is his continued reluctance to embellish repeats or fermatas. Except for the F major, recordings of these sonatas are thin on the ground. On a modern grand both Jeno´´ Jandó and John McCabe (in his complete Decca cycle) are more than acceptable. But if you want these works on an instrument Haydn would have recognised – with a gain in clarity and pungency of texture – then this new disc is unchallenged. Richard Wigmore