Ulrika Davidsson

Haydn Sonatas: "Galanterien" to "Sturm und Drang"

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This rather curious historical-keyboard Haydn recording comes from Ulrika Davidsson, who has been active in Sweden, Germany, and the U.S. She makes some odd decisions, but there are also plenty of fine moments. The pairing of instruments involved could appear in both of these categories. Recordings of Haydn on the clavichord are rare, despite the fact that the clavichord was demonstrably the keyboard instrument of choice through much of the late 18th century and was equipped, in a way a harpsichord was not, to bring out the dynamic contrasts seemingly built into the surprises and sharp turns that characterize so much of Haydn's keyboard music. So it's nice to hear a couple of sonatas played on a clavichord here, and the instrument, a modern Swedish example, has a pleasant, clear, and flexible range of sounds. The two sonatas specifically chosen, however, don't work particularly well on the clavichord, although they certainly might have been played on one at some point. Davidsson's notes, in English only, make much of the theory of affect (given in its German spelling, Affekt, but then annoyingly given the English plural "s") popular in the musical aesthetics of Haydn's time, and she stresses the analogy between speech and music that was also in the air. C.P.E. Bach, she notes, believed that the clavichord was the instruments best suited to express the sequence of inner ideas he thought his music embodied. But the two sonatas Davidsson plays on the clavichord don't correspond much to what became known as the empfindsamer Stil or sensitive style; they are frisky early works, highly melodic, in purely galant styles. Davidsson struggles with this, at one point (in the Largo of the Keyboard Sonata in B flat major, Hob. 16/2) even altering the left-hand part because she feels Haydn's original was too sparse. This is questionable in the extreme. A work like the Keyboard Sonata in G minor, Hob. 16/44, which is closer to C.P.E. Bach's concept, might have been better for the clavichord half of the program. When Davidsson turns to the fortepiano, a copy of the much-imitated Walter instruments of 1785, she is very strong, however. The late Piano Sonata in E flat major, Hob. 16/52, is given a strong, spacious performance that seems to match the fortepiano's capabilities in an unusually convincing way. With the benefit of nice sound engineering executed at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, this is a Haydn recording that's convincing where it works well and will at least start useful conversations where it works less well.

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