Online Concert: Jean-Efflam Bavouzet plays Haydn @ Wigmore Hall

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)

Piano Sonata in D major Hob.XVI:24 (c1773)
Piano Sonata in A flat major Hob.XVI:46 (c1767-8)
Piano Sonata in E flat major Hob.XVI:49 (1789-90)

Wigmore Hall, Monday 20 February 1pm

by Ben Hogwood

Haydn’s piano sonatas remain an underappreciated corner of his output as a composer. This is understandable on one hand, given the sheer volume and consistency of his output in other forms. The symphonies, string quartets and piano trios all enjoy higher billing, but gradually the sonatas are coming up on the rails.

This is in part due to recent recordings from pianists such as Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Marc-André Hamelin and Peter Donohoe. Bavouzet, however, has gone further, completing a cycle of the sonatas in eleven instalments for Chandos. If they are all as stylishly played as this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert, then many treats await.

First of three works in this recital was a D major sonata full of vim and vigour. Bavouzet enjoyed its brightly voiced start, securing a lovely articulation to the right hand while bringing the historical connections through. The energy of Domenico Scarlatti was in evidence, while in the aria-like slow movement there was an operatic air. With an expressive right hand and softly alternating left, Bavouzet found Haydn’s soft centre, before enjoying the florid right hand and the playful nature of in the finale.

In the second work we enjoyed classic, ‘exploratory’ Haydn, the composer experimenting with different forms and far flung keys – such as the D flat major chosen for the slow movement. Here the influence is more C.P.E. Bach, heard in a captivating Allegro, adorned with ornaments in the right hand. Bavouzet once again showed off a bright, clear sound and lightness of touch, with sleights of humour visible at every turn. The slow movement did indeed travel further afield, creating an air of mystery, with exceptional playing in the upper reaches of the right hand. The finale was crisp and clear.

Proof that Haydn sonatas are starting to make themselves better known came with the third work. This was not the E flat sonata placed 52 in Haydn’s output – often chosen as an example sonata in a concert programme. Instead we had a winsome and deeply personal work, written for the composer’s personal friend and confidant, Maria Anna von Genzinger at the turn of 1789 and 1790. As the musicologist Daniel Heartz notes, we know more about the composition of this piece than any other in Haydn’s output, due to the correspondence between the pair, where the composer gives uncharacteristic outpourings of feeling and loneliness.

Bavouzet’s performance immediately took on a conversational air, wit and underlying tenderness lying just beneath the relatively grand gesture of the opening. The intimate, thoroughly enjoyable dialogue between the hands spoke of two people enjoying a one-on-one rapport, before the first movement ended with a flourish and an exclamation mark. The second movement had a lovely disposition to its main theme but then a darker tint to the central section, moving to such ‘un-classical’ keys as B flat minor. The finale also stressed the importance of the silences between the notes, Bavouzet observing these just as closely in the overall phrasing.

This was a wonderful recital, a reminder that Haydn’s importance and influence within the piano sonata medium should not be overlooked. The music had an endearing freshness throughout, communicated with persuasion by a pianist on top of his game.

As an encore, Bavouzet switched styles to Massenet, dedicating his performance of the French composer’s whirlwind Toccata to his dear friend Paul Westcott, a much-missed presence with whom he worked in the beginnings of his career with Chandos, and through to the Haydn itself. Paul would have loved the pizzazz of this version, and Bavouzet’s virtuosity and brilliance would have been appreciated from afar – of that there is no doubt!.

For more livestreamed concerts from the Wigmore Hall, click here. Meanwhile the Spotify playlist below contains recordings made by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet of all the repertoire in this concert:

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