Enrique Bagaría plays Haydn
Eudora Records EUD-SACD-1601
Classical - Instrumental
Piano Sonata No. 59 in E flat major, Hob. XVI: 49
Piano Sonata No. 33 in C minor, Hob. XVI: 20
Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat major, Hob. XVI: 46
Piano Sonata No. 47 in B minor, Hob. XVI: 32
First prize winner of the María Canals Competition, Enrique Bagaría’s virtuosity and musicality is on display with this recording, which includes four of the most important and appealing keyboard sonatas by Franz Joseph Haydn. Bagaría’s refined, elegant and virtuosic performances bring to these seminal works the grandeur they deserve, while offering the listener a stunning and very personal rendition of these Haydn masterpieces.
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Review by Adrian Quanjer - January 28, 2016
Apart from a Blu-Ray Audio disk with all the sonatas in a historical context but sonically not the very best (The Virtual Haydn: complete works for solo keyboard - Beghin), coverage of Haydn’s piano sonatas in high resolution is pretty thin. Linn produced with Gottlieb Wallisch a disk with the ‘London Sonatas’; well received by Graham Williams (Haydn: Piano Sonatas 50-52 - Gottlieb Wallisch), BIS gave us a remarkable set with Yevgeny Sudbin (Haydn: Piano Sonatas - Sudbin), while Gary Cooper played two for Channel records as did Dejan Lasić as a filler. Altogether a mere 11 out of the 60+ sonatas. Of course, not all of them figure high on any pianist’s ambition list. Duplication is unavoidable, and such is the case here, be it only a modest one: Sonata no. 47, Hob. XVI:32. This new set is, therefore, more than welcome.
Before going any further, one might ask why a pianist of 28, so tell us the liner notes, still wants to participate in a piano contest (Barcelona 2006); which he won, by the way. I can only guess. One of my guesses is that it is not easy for many artists to catch the attention of the broader musical world, allowing them to better compete for concert engagements, radio broadcasts and recording opportunities. Browsing his bio data it turns out that he is now clearly on the way up, to which the contest may have helped.
Eudura has, in my view, made an excellent choice to contract Enrique Bagaría for putting these sonatas on disk, because he proves to be an excellent Haydn interpreter.
In terms of difficulty, public at large usually think of such composers as Rachmaninov or Liszt. Without claiming the contrary, small mistakes can, on occasion, be hidden or re-adjusted in difficult passage work. With Haydn (and Mozart, too, for that matter) this is quasi impossible. The smallest glitch will not fail to catch the ear of the listener. No mistakes are permitted. Furthermore, a light and precise ‘toucher’ is another key element. Right from the outset of Sonata 59 it is crystal clear that Bagaría fits all the slots.
Enrique Bagaría shares with us that he loves Haydn more that Mozart and that No’s 59 and 31 have always been his favourites. The other two, 33 and 46 were added later to his repertoire. In an interview with Mònica Pagès, printed in the liner notes, he explains how he identifies himself with Joseph Haydn. Interesting reading, but the important factor at hand is, how does that translate into his playing. Well, I have little to add to what I said before: He commands all the requirements for being a first rate Haydn advocate. Everything goes so well and so smoothly, it’s a sheer joy to listen to him.
Comparing his style with, for instance Gary Cooper, is not realistic, since both live in a different world; Bagaría playing on a mighty Steinway and Cooper a Viennese instrument dated 1785. Still, Bagaría’s playing is a whole lot lighter. But this may have much to do with the recording: Cooper’s pianoforte has been recorded ‘in close up’ as it were, sounding a bit ‘boomy’ at times.
Comparing with Yevgeny Sudbin is a different matter. His rendition of Sonata 49 is outstanding, but bolder, using more pedal, and audibly so. Enrique Bagaría uses less or no pedal, but is humming from time to time, also audibly! However, he is not alone, the best example being Glen Gould, which apparently disturbed few.
There is no need to choose between the one or the other, as there is only one overlapping sonata. For me this new disk is a worthwhile addition to the catalogue, which gave me 80+ minutes of expertly recorded, immense pleasure and I have no hesitation in recommending it. Value for money in every sense.
Copyright © 2016 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net
Review by John Miller - January 28, 2016
Haydn's solo keyboard works span most of his musical life. Until 1771, he described most of them as "divertimento" or "partita", but afterwords he employed the term "sonata". Much of his surviving early keyboard music was written to use in his teaching of pupils, an essential boost to his finances, so it lacks the more distinguished thematic material of Mozart's and Beethoven's early works.
Later, when well established in the Esterhazy employment, his developing solo piano works were not for his own purposes, rather he marketed them to printers all over Europe, despite their relative difficulty. In the late 1760s, then, Haydn's great strength as a keyboard composer relied on his imagination in variation and develop material such as unusual and foreword-looking piano textures. His inspiration for this development was the discovery of the keyboard sonatas of Carl Philipp Bach, which he appreciated profoundly. Another stimulus of that period was the nascent arrival of versions of the forte-piano and the decline of the harpsichord.
Barcelonian-born in 1978, pianist Enrique Bagaría is perhaps best known for his work in Spain, but in recent seasons he has performed in many world’s major venues and festivals. For his first Haydn record, in interview for the disc's booklet he was questioned about his relationship with Haydn's recording of piano sonatas for Eudora. He explains that his close identity to the composer's music is approves its sense of balance and lack of inhibition, and that two of the four sonatas which he chose for his recital were his favourites from early student days.
The programme consists of No.59 in E flat major, Hob.XVI:49 (1789), No.33 in C minor, Hob.XVI:20 (1771), No.31 in A flat major, Hob.XVI:46 (1767-70) and No.47 in B minor, Hob.XVI:32 (1774–76). This is a very nicely balanced set; two in each of minor and major keys, arranged in pairs of early plus late. Bagaría has been scrupulous in his preparation, even considering the time of the gaps between movements in cementing their continuity. He is also well aware of the current understanding of Classical marking of scores, where there are three separate notations for staccato timing, with small triangle above the notes for very fast staccato, single dots for standard timing and single dots linked by a curved line above indicated for a phrased and linked staccato, and these are played meticulously but entirely naturally. He also plays all the repeats which are present in Classical scores, especially sonata-form movements, where the exposition section repeats, as do the combined development and recapitulation sections - the latter repeat often omitted by today's pianists. The repetitions of course increase the length of some movements, resulting in a generous 82:45 time for this recording. Pedalling too is used thoughtfully and sparingly.
These are very fine renditions of Haydn sonatas, capturing wit and whimsy, characterisation, beautifully nuanced articulation for fluent ornamentation and giving scrupulous attention to Haydn's frequent changes of dynamics without exaggeration. It is clear that these pieces are deeply entered in Bagaría's psyche, to the rather surprising extent of producing quite frequent murmured vocalisations, which can be heard if you have a quiet listening room and very high resolution speakers. I thought at first that this would become irritating, but the singing (often not quite in tune) only lasts for a second or so at a time, and is rather endearing, adding to the recording's efforts to give the listener a natural experience.
The two back pages of the booklet sport a double page B/W photo of a session or rehearsal in the smallish auditorium of Zaragoza at the Sala Luis Galve, Saragoria, Spain. Eudora's Neumann U89s and Schoeps microphones are arrayed a metre or more in front of the piano, and at about the same height as the pianist's head (most other recordings tend to have them much higher). As a 5.0 array, they provide an impressively focussed sound-stage for the Steinway, with a smooth ambience adding bloom to the instrument's tonal output, although I would appreciated more of the ambience, since the relative closeness of the microphones means they are picking up the wooden mechanism sounds. The very good Stereo also would benefit from more air, in my view.
These beautifully polished performances would provide an excellent introduction to Haydn's extensive list of piano sonatas; there are very few other examples in HR at the time of writing. Haydn lovers who recoil from period pianofortes will be pleased by Bagaría's ability to provide a realistic classical sound from the massive romantic values of the modern Steinway. Highly recommended.
Copyright © 2016 John Miller and HRAudio.net
Review by Mark Novak - February 6, 2016
This is a superlatively well-recorded and generously-filled album of Haydn’s piano music. I want to begin by talking about the sound because it is excellent in every way. The recording was made in the Auditorio de Zaragoza in Sala Luis Galve, Zaragoza, Spain over three consecutive days in July, 2015. A session photo is provided in the booklet showing what looks like a reasonably large hall with the Steinway D piano situated center-stage and two microphones placed a few feet from the piano with its lid fully up. Another microphone is located just off the stage, roughly 12 feet in front of the piano – perhaps to capture ambience for the surround channels? The master was done in DSD 256 and the multichannel version is 5.0 (I, as usual, just listened to the stereo SACD tracks). The producer and engineer is Gonzalo Noqué the founder and driving force behind Eudora Records.
The final result is a piano sound that is ultra-realistic and natural. This recording takes the prize for best recorded Steinway D piano in my collection. The sound is crystal clear, capturing every nuance of the performance. The notes are enveloped in their natural overtones from the bass to the treble with just enough of the hall to put me in the recording space. The dynamic range is broad (though this music doesn’t test the complete dynamic range of the instrument – for that you need Liszt or Beethoven). I am so in love with this piano sound that every other record company recording piano music needs to contract their recording services to Mr. Noqué and allow him to apply his magic for them. The sound is THAT extraordinary! BUT – yes, there is a but – there is one annoying aspect to this recording: the pianist hums along as he plays. Talk about a major let down! It almost ruins this recording for me. Although not constant, it is intrusive enough to wreck the magnificent sound of this SACD. Why? WHY?
This could have been so wonderful – Enrique Bagaria is clearly a gifted performer who plays these classical pieces with great technique and high style. Two of these sonatas (Nos. 59 and 31) have been in his repertoire for a long time and it shows. The booklet notes consist of an interview with the pianist who says Haydn’s piano music is more important to him than Mozart’s and even Beethoven’s and this shines through in these lovely performances. As I alluded to earlier, this music doesn’t explore the full dynamic range of the modern piano yet Bagaria handles the scores dynamics beautifully within the confines of what is written in the score. No heaven-storming displays – just well-constructed music played with enough romantic temperament to maintain the listener’s engagement throughout the recital. I enjoy everything about Bagaria’s performances – except that ANNOYING humming! Sorry – it simply drives me crazy. My performance rating is significantly downgraded as a result – without the humming these are five-star performances. You’ll have to decide if you can abide the humming. If so, you will hear extraordinary piano sound in top flight performances.
Copyright © 2016 Mark Novak and HRAudio.net