Haydn: Keyboard Sonata in F, Hob. XVI:29; Keyboard Sonata in C, Hob. XVI:48; Keyboard Sonata in E flat, Hob. XVI:49; Keyboard Sonata in B minor, Hob. XVI:32; Keyboard Sonata in E flat, Hob. XVI:38

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Stradivarius
WORKS: Keyboard Sonata in F, Hob. XVI:29; Keyboard Sonata in C, Hob. XVI:48; Keyboard Sonata in E flat, Hob. XVI:49; Keyboard Sonata in B minor, Hob. XVI:32; Keyboard Sonata in E flat, Hob. XVI:38
PERFORMER: Alan Curtis (fortepiano)
CATALOGUE NO: STR 33522 (distr. +39 2 29 400 600; www.stradivarius.it)
Some may hear Alan Curtis’s playing of these sonatas, on two restored 1790s fortepianos, as boldly inventive. Others, including me, will find it impossibly wayward and heavy-handed. A harpsichordist by training – and it shows – Curtis tends to pound percussively, jabbing mercilessly at strong beats (try the rhapsodic opening movement of the C major, No. 48) and wilfully distorting the rhythms, as if determined to ram home any affinities with the empfindsamer Stil of CPE Bach. At times, as in the siciliano slow movement of No. 38, he seems unwilling to play two successive bars at the same speed. Even his basic tempi can be perverse. The Presto finales of the C major and the B minor, for instance, are lumpy and ponderous, totally devoid of wit and devilry; conversely, the B minor’s middle movement is brusque and spiky, missing the reflective tenderness caught by the likes of Brendel, Richter and Andsnes, all of whom recognise the music’s dual function as minuet and surrogate slow movement. Curtis ornaments lavishly – to my ears sometimes over-lavishly – on repeats, and uses the softening ‘moderator’ to telling effect. But if you want performances of these sonatas that exploit the distinctive sonorities of the fortepiano, then Andreas Staier (in Nos 48 and 49) and Ronald Brautigam (in Nos 29, 38 and 48) are in a different class for poetry, finesse and sheer animal spirits. Richard Wigmore

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