This is the second volume in a series of recordings of Haydn piano sonatas played by the remarkable French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet whose earlier volume I reviewed with enthusiasm Haydn: Piano Sonatas, Vol. 1. In that review I compared his playing favorably with that of another marvelous Haydn player who has also recorded two volumes of the sonatas, Marc-André Hamelin Haydn: Piano Sonatas & Haydn: Piano Sonatas Vol.2.
There are five sonatas included here: Sonata No. 48 in C (Hob. XVI:35); No. 32 in G Minor (Hob. XVI:44); No. 50 in D (Hob.XVI:37); No. 19 in E Minor (Hob. XVI:47 bis); and No. 20 in B Flat (Hob. XVI:18) in that order.
The first of these, No. 48, is one of Haydn's most played sonatas at least partly because it is a favorite of piano teachers of young children. It is still true that in some circles Haydn's piano sonatas are considered students' pieces. Indeed, until the mid-1900s Haydn's piano sonatas were rarely heard in professional pianists' recitals and not until the 1980s were there recordings of the complete set (something on the order of sixty sonatas, although some of them are not completely authenticated as being by Haydn). Bavouzet takes this C Major sonata to new heights. The opening movement, Allegro con brio, has a decided emphasis on the 'brio' to its benefit. Those triplet figures simply fly by. The Adagio, with its simple Alberti bass, has a meltingly beautiful cantabile melody. The finale, Allegro, is a fast minuet-quasi-rondo whose pertness is charmingly portrayed by Bavouzet.
No. 32 in G Minor provides emotional contrast with the sunny No. 48. Its melancholy theme is decorated at times with downward left-hand arpeggios that flicker like summer lightning. This movement is notable for its complex and yet entirely accessible counterpoint. The second and last movement, Allegretto, is a minuet in style but its form is rather more like a rondo. There are divagations of key that must have sounded a little strange in Haydn's time but for which we have been better prepared by our knowledge of Beethoven.
No. 50 in D Major is another familiar students' sonata; most youngsters who reach lower intermediate levels of competence learn this sonata. The opening Allegro con brio sounds more virtuosic than it actually is and Bavouzet plays it blindingly fast, to its advantage. The following Largo e sostenuto (in D Minor) is stylistically a dotted-rhythm French ouverture in the form of a sarabande. It leads without pause in the finale, Presto ma non troppo, is in variation-rondo form and ranges through D major, D minor and G major.
No. 19 in E Minor opens with an Adagio that moves without pause into an Allegro. It ends with a Minuet, the only one of Haydn's sonatas to have this rather odd layout, although this sequence can be heard in some of his string trios; this slow-fast-minuet sequence is, of course, derived from the baroque trio.
No. 20 in B Flat is, like No. 32, in only two movements: Allegro moderato and Moderato. The Allegro moderato is a bit quirky in that there are abrupt silences, flurries of ornaments and syncopations. It is a delicate thing that yet has a spine in Bavouzet's hands, a fine balancing act. The Moderato finale is in sonata-allegro form but maintains the same mood as the preceding movement.
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet has only recently come to the attention of American music-lovers although he has been well-known in Europe for years. His recent North American appearances as soloist with the Orchestre National de France under Daniele Gatti have been universally applauded. He has heretofore been known primarily from his recordings of the complete piano works of Debussy and Ravel, but his playing of Haydn suggests that his abilities are not at all limited to music of his countrymen.