HAYDN: Piano Sonatas Nos. 31, 33, 47 & 59 – Enrique Bagaria, p. – Eudora

JOSEPH HAYDN: Piano Sonatas Nos. 31, 33, 47 & 59 – Enrique Bagaria, p. – Eudora multichannel SACD-1601 (4/1/16) *****:

(Enrique Bagaria – piano)

A buoyant Haydn recital acts as a corrective to dampened spirits.

As strife and gloom stalk the land, I find myself retreating into an ever-smaller enclosure until I realize that it has become a dark cell. Call it the “miserable self.”  The desolation is mirrored in the faces of my artistic friends. One states, “We need our music more than ever.”  But another, the skeptic, ripostes. “If philosophy couldn’t show Wittgenstein’s fly the way out of the bottle, we shouldn’t expect music to persuade the forces of darkness.” On the grim edge of history, we need far more than cheering up, but perhaps an immediate affirmation of the permanently beautiful would not be a bad place to start.

This affirmation appears in the form of a disc from Spain, Enrique Bagaria Plays Haydn Piano Sonatas. What can this well-chosen music deliver? I have already encountered this Madrid-based label Eudora, and my review of the Bach Cello Suites played by Petrit Ceku can be found on this site. That high-resolution recording was nothing less than astounding in its clarity and presence.  This SACD will confirm that the engineers at this label have achieved some rare feng shui. The sound of the perfectly-recorded piano fills the room in which one is positioned three rows back, dead center.

Things begin with the Sonata No. 59 in E Flat Major. The Allegro contains Haydn’s typical rhetorical devices: redirections and sudden digressions.  It is all very conversational. Bagaria’s articulation is crisp on the linear passages, and he also skillfully negotiates the harmonic density of Haydn’s boisterous talking-all-at-once. The Adagio e Cantabile involves less cantabile than probing and inquiry. The pianist has the measure of Haydn’s pondering but never ponderous voices.

The Minuet is simple but sunswept beauty. The dancing first theme is the closest that Haydn gets to Mozart. A bit of major-minor musing scarcely affects the mood of pleasant reflection on everyday matters.  I find myself leaning forward and focusing more intently on this remarkable playing, which captures Haydn’s geniality so well.

Sonata No. 33 seems to be a larger work without being any longer; the minor key adds more weight to the discussion. Bagaria’s playing is sensitive to all the earnest pauses, hesitations, the raising of voices, pleadings, and emphatic declarations. This movement exemplifies Haydn’s great achievement of creating “characters,” which experience the vicissitudes of a  harmonic journey. It has been said that sonata-allegro form aspires to the musical equivalent of the novel and here Bagaria is adept at bringing Haydn’s characters to life.

Pure beauty follows with some harmonic estrangements which deepen the lyrical rubato playing. One can scarcely imagine a more affecting reading of this movement. Already, I am prepared to place this Spanish player among the greatest of the “sunshine and light” school of Haydn playing, championed by Ekatarina Dershavina and Yevgeny Sudbin.

Well-known Sonatas follow, No. 33 and No. 47, the latter in a minor key. Everywhere we see the mercurial inventor discovering Nature’s secret of how to make “one thing into two and two into ten-thousand.”  And not a bit of this intricate business slips from Enrique’s prodigious hands. There is some virtuosity in both of the remaining prestos, but even here, the emphasis is on the little surprises, spirited gestures, and tonal command of the instrument.

What has this brilliant recording yielded after all? Certainly no salvation or revelation, but on a more human scale, the two things we need the most: a window that looks out on a world of beautiful objects and Haydn’s conviviality, his representation of cheerful and witty talk among friends. A prisoner is lucky to have a single mouse as a visitor.  Haydn, in his generosity, gives us so many voices to listen to that we don’t get stuck listening to ourselves .

This recording could not have arrived at a better time, but perhaps any time is right for playing of this order. We must assume that this label and its outstanding musician will continue their life-enhancing work. The encore that recommends itself is, of course, Scarlatti, but we will gladly receive anything Eudora and Enrique Bagaria have to offer us.

—Fritz Balwit

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