Composers: Haydn
Compositions: Piano sonatas
Performers: Jean-Efflam Bavouzet p
Catalogue Number: Chandos CHAN20087

After forays into Mozart concertos and Schumann solos, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet is back with the latest volume of his magnificent survey of the Haydn keyboard sonatas – this is number eight, with two more to go. Considered Sir Georg Solti’s last discovery, the prolific 56-year-old Frenchman averages three new albums a year, and combined with his busy program of recitals and concerts he must barely get up from the piano stool.

For this latest offering he takes works from three critical periods in Haydn’s life. Having left his village at the age of six to live with a cousin who was a choirmaster, the composer sang in the choir of St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna until he was dismissed after his voice broke.

To make ends meet at 17 he taught harpsichord and some of his earliest sonatas were written for his pupils. These include Nos 5, 6 and 7 – all quite charming and uplifting – which are performed with a sense of affection and delight here by Bavouzet.

The Sonata No 51 in E Flat, which Bavouzet uses to break up the early works, falls into the second critical stage of Haydn’s career. In 1778 he had been working for Prince Esterhazy for 17 years in virtual isolation 100 kilometres from Vienna. His works had been published in London, Paris and Amsterdam, often riddled with mistakes and without any money coming in.

He decided to take control and when Carlo and Francesco Artaria opened a publishing business in Vienna Haydn’s fortunes changed. Now he could send corrections and have some control over his intellectual property.

The third momentous turn in his life came when he was befriended by Maria Anna von Genzinger, a mother of six and accomplished pianist and singer who was married to Esterhazy’s doctor. The couple ran musical afternoons and invited Haydn, who had been unhappily married, to perform and thus gave him his very first taste of a happy family life.

He dedicated his Sonata No 59 (often called the Genzinger) to Maria Anna, and it has become one of his most performed piano pieces. Bavouzet does it full justice on this disc, giving a magisterial reading of this gem from the Age of the Enlightenment.

This top-notch disc is filled out with the delicious Adagio ma non troppo, an original version of the slow movement of the Piano Trio No 36, and the variations on the Austrian anthem Gott Erhalte.