Piano Sonata No. 33 in C minor, Hob.XVI:20; Piano Sonata No. 58 in C, Hob.XVI:48; Partita, Hob.XVI:6; Variations on ‘Gott erhalte Franz, den Kaiser’; Andante & Variations in F minor, Hob.XVII:6
Kristian Bezuidenhout (piano)
Harmonia Mundi HMM902273 68:22 mins
Kristian Bezuidenhout saw the invitation to record this disc as a chance to confront his prejudiced view of Haydn as inferior to Mozart; some listeners may regard it as a chance to confront their prejudices against the fortepiano. Those listeners may relax: the instrument which this South African player has chosen is an unusually fine example, with a singing warmth of tone.
The repertoire is well-chosen: Haydn’s late C minor Sonata contrasting with a very early one in C major; the G major Partita which is a sonata in all but name; the intriguing little set of variations on the string quartet Adagio whose theme became the German national anthem; and the great F minor variations. Bezuidenhout says his aim has been to ‘blur the distinction between improvisation, composition, and the act of performance’ – to create an impression of freshness and immediacy – and he does this supremely well. He imbues the opening Allegro of the C minor Sonata with a grandeur tinged with pathos, and he gives the contrasts of its Andante – in which a walking bass-line is offset by an ornamented melody – a lovely grace; his use of rubato is dramatic without being obtrusive, and he brings to the finale a triumphal richness of texture.
If the seldom-performed Partita is interesting without being a top-drawer work, the early C major Sonata, in which Haydn was experimenting with the sonorities of the newly-invented fortepiano, has an exhilarating boldness as Bezuidenhout plays it. The F minor variations are delivered with serene authority, winding to an enigmatic, thrilling, and majestic close.