Different treatments of Haydn sonatas

Jean-Efflam Bavouzet outshines Andrew Rangell with his joyous recording Haydn's Piano Sonatas as the pair go head-to-head

Composer:  Haydn
Repertoire: Piano Sonatas Nos 39, 47, 31 & 49
Artists: Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (piano)
Rating: 5/5
Genre: Instrumental
Label:  Chandos CHAN 10586

Composer: Haydn
Repertoire: Piano Sonatas Nos 56, 50, 32 & 33
Artists: Andrew Rangell (piano)
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Instrumental
Label:  Bridge 9313

Haydn composed 60 sonatas for the piano between the 1750s and 1795. Though six are lost, it represents a significant body of work and, having fallen rather out of fashion in recent years, is now being taken up again by pianists. The most significant of these is Marc-André Hamelin whose two volumes (four CDs) for Hyperion issued so far have set the benchmark for these life-enhancing works. French pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet comes closest to rivalling Hamelin in this his first disc of what will be a complete cycle. Haydn’s lively conversational dialogue, often like two people playing ping-pong, is neatly and engagingly captured with a light touch. Try the opening movement of the D major Sonata No.39 or, for joyous keyboard skittering reminiscent of Scarlatti, the exuberant Presto of the B minor Sonata No.47. Bavouzet brings an emotional depth to the slow movements without being portentous. Altogether, this beautifully recorded disc promises well for another classic Bavouzet set to compliment his prize-winning Debussy recordings. 

All of which puts the American Andrew Rangell in the shade. Perhaps it is his choice of sonatas but that essential feathery buoyancy, a prerequisite in the faster movements, is missing. At times I thought I was listening to early Beethoven, so deliberate and ‘interpreted’ is some of the playing. Of course there is more to Haydn than mere froth and dazzling fingers but an element of fun when appropriate is indispensable. Hamelin’s witty pointing and brisker tempos in, say, the D major Sonata No.50, show the difference between a competent Haydn player and an exceptional one.