Piano Sonatas by Haydn, Mozart & Beethoven

Piano Sonatas by Haydn, Mozart & Beethoven
Walewein Witten (fortepiano)
Resonus RES10242. 71’29

Beethoven: Sonata in D minor, Op. 31/2 ‘The Tempest’
Sonata in E-flat major, Hob. XVI:52
Mozart: Sonata in F major, KV 533/494

The question of what Beethoven, or Bach, would have done if they were composing for modern instruments, rather than those of their time, is often asked. The question is, of course, impossible to answer but I would hazard a guess that their music would be totally different to what it actually is. So, in a way, they would no longer be Beethoven or Bach, but a different composer, writing in a different age and for different listeners. So the first, and possibly the most important, thing about this recording is that it is performed on a fortepiano.

The piano used for this recording is a 2003 copy by Gerard Tuinman of an 1805 Walter & Söhne instrument. Although the music only spans a 16-year period, it was a time of considerable change in piano technology. But the chosen model copes well with the differing sounds world of Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven. The programme is presented in reverse chronological, but I would have preferred the order to have been reversed so as to reinforce the development of piano music between the three composers.

All three Sonatas come from the late Classical period. The Beethoven Op.31 Sonata dates from 1801/2. The name ‘The Tempest’ was a much later addition relating to a suggestion that a pianist should read Shakespeare’s Tempest before playing Sonata. The opening movement contrasts different moods, rather in the earlier style of Haydn. There are two moments of repose, with atmospheric slowly spread chords at the start of the development section, and a recitative-like passage heralding the recapitulation.

The Haydn Sonata dates from his second visit to England in 1794/5. It is the last of his Piano Sonatas and has some clear indications of the forthcoming Romantic era. The opening movement is marked Allegro but is taken at a sensible pace with no sense of rushing. It is a dramatic movement, the brief, and rather flighty, second subject adding a momentary lighter air. Witten sensibly avoids the slurs marked in later editions, playing with an attractively clear articulation. The Adagio is in a darker hue, and is followed by a bubbly Finale built on repeated notes. Marked Presto, Witten’s playing allows air and light into the texture.

The Mozart Sonata started life as a standalone Rondo to which he later added two opening movements (in 1788), hence the double KV number. He added a cadenza-like extension to the final Rondo, with references back to the added opening Allegro. The development section adds a slightly darker edge to the jovial opening movement, although the mood throughout remains sparkly. The central Andante starts out as what would later be referred to as a Song without Words but has an unusual chromatic central section that comes and goes like a Spring storm.

Walewein Witten’s playing is very impressive, showing musical integrity with an assured technique, allowing the fortepiano to speak in its distinctive voice. More information, and a link to the programme notes, can be found here.