Haydn – Piano Sonatas Volume 1

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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1: No. 31 in A flat, Hob. XVI:46; No. 39 in D, Hob. XVI:24; No. 47 in B minor, Hob. XVI:32; No. 49 in C sharp minor, Hob.XVI:36
PERFORMER: Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)


Jean-Efflam Bavouzet has made such a superlative name for himself in Debussy and Ravel, that it’s initially surprising to find him launching a Haydn series. But within bars of the D major Sonata No. 39 (as numbered in Christa Landon’s catalogue), surprise turns to delight at Bavouzet’s pellucid touch, subtle balancing of phrases and vital articulation of contrasts. 

More nuanced than Marc-André Hamelin’s recent quicksilver Haydn series on Hyperion (reviewed in September), yet quite avoiding the mannerism of Anne Queffélec’s selection on Mirare (reviewed in February), Bavouzet’s approach is also more comprehensive in expression, as quickly instanced in the pathos he finds in the Adagio of Sonata No. 39, or the crisp severity with which he opens the ensuing Sonata No. 47 in D minor. Yet nothing, either in expression or tone, is ever forced. It helps that his modern grand (maker unspecified) has a relatively crisp lower register, and that the recorded sound rightly achieves spaciousness and intimacy.


There is just one anomaly. Near the end of the serenely unfolding Adagio of the Sonata No. 31 in A flat major, Haydn ventures into a remote tonality and pauses. Instead of improvising a concise lead back to the closing bars, Bavouzet inserts a substantial and still more adventurous cadenza of his own composing which, some may feel, almost unbalances the movement. Still, this scarcely alloys a wonderfully promising series. Bayan Northcott