Haydn: Keyboard Sonatas

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Channel
WORKS: HobXVI:48; No. 59 in E flat, HobXVI:49; No. 62 in E flat, HobXVI/52; Variations on ‘Gott erhalte Franz, den Kaiser’; Variations (Fantasy) in F minor HobXVII/6
PERFORMER: Gary Cooper (fortepiano)


This is a disc to win over even listeners who have hitherto found the fortepiano an acquired taste.

Gary Cooper has come up with a singularly beautiful Viennese instrument from c1785, with a silvery, singing upper register, bass notes of a lute-like resonance, and offering a dynamic range from the most veiled pianissimo to a Beethovenian ferocity. He has also adopted a late 18th-century tuning that enhances the character-contrasts between certain keys – as one hears in the transition from E major to G major in the middle of the Adagio of Haydn’s last and most grandly virtuosic effort, the Sonata in E flat, HobXVI:52 (1794).

Interpretatively, Cooper offers a fascinatingly complementary approach to Andreas Staier in his outstanding late-Haydn box. Often a quirky player, Staier here proves on the whole stricter, crisper, more clear-cut in his dynamic contrasts, just as his instrument, a modern copy of a c1792 Walter fortepiano, is the more evenly toned. Cooper is more poetic in his phrasing, more sensitive in colour gradations, freer with the text as regards decorations, added octaves in the bass, and so on.

Occasionally, as in the opening Andante of the Sonata in C, HobXVI:48 (1789), Staier is more successful in holding the structure together, yet Cooper generates greater tension in the ornate Variations in F minor, HobXVII:6, which explode so unexpectedly in tragedy and pathos at the end.


Fans of fortepiano Haydn should treat themselves to both Cooper and Staier: each enhances the other. Bayan Northcott