Reviews

GMCD 7260 – Acht Sauschneider müssens sein by Haydn

Derek Adlam – Clavichord

To the CD in our Shop


BRITISH CLAVICHORD SOCIETY NEWSLETTER, No. 28, February 2004

Several of the pieces here will already be familiar to BCS members from Derek’s performances at recitals over the last ten years, and it is good to have them in a more permanent form, beautifully played and well recorded (in the Priory Church of Our Lady and St Cuthbert, Worksop). Alongside one acknowledged masterpiece, the F minor Variations of 1795 (a prime example of Haydn’s characteristic double-variation structure), the other works on this disc are no less deserving of repeated hearings, which will reveal the depth and range of Haydn’s genius in a genre where his achievement is still underrated.

The three sonatas are well contrasted examples from 1773-4, containing many moments of delight and drama, from the manic humour of Sonata 29’s first movement (surely an affectionate send-up of C. P. E. Bach) to the pounding ‘Sturm und Drang’ rhythms of Sonata 32’s B minor finale. Of the many harmonic, rhythmic and structural subtleties typical of Haydn’s inexhaustibly fertile brain, I will give just one example: the finale of Sonata 24 begins with a tied upbeat figure that later became a feature of Beethoven’s style (in fact the rhythm, key and time signature are identical in the third movement of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op. 10, No.3): and then, a few bars later, Haydn’s already syncopated 3/4 is further disrupted by three ‘bars’ of 2/4.

There are two relatively early works on the disc. Derek exactly captures the playful swagger of the Variations in D major (dating from the 1750s), and Haydn enthusiasts will be delighted to have a satisfying period-instrument performance of the amazing Capriccio in G major of 1765 (the only previous one I know is Fritz Neumeyer’s on a fortepiano recorded forty years ago). Haydn’s great Capriccios are sui generis and cannot easily be described in terms of the standard eighteenth-century forms (there is another one for keyboard, usually known as the Fantasia in C major, and there are similar movements in the String Quartet Op. 20, No.2, and in Symphony No. 86). This particular Capriccio is based on a counting song about how many people it takes to castrate a boar – a sort of earthier Austrian version of Ten Green Bottles. Derek Adlam, in his booklet notes, describes it as ‘a set of twelve variations’ and detects ‘an echo of classical sonata form’ in the way the theme returns in the home key at bar 265. The folk-tune certainly permeates the piece, but it is surely not a set of variations in the usual sense. The first half of the theme appears more or less unchanged in a sequence of different keys, ritornello fashion, moving first to the sharp side of G major, eventually reaching B minor, and then to the flat side, reaching G minor/Bb major. The episodes in between are fantastical variations/developments of segments of the thematic material, taken mainly from the second half of the tune. The bridge between the sharp side and the flat side is an amazing passage where the bass descends chromatically over an octave-plus-a-fifth in a labyrinthine modulation from B minor, to emerge from the tangled harmonic thickets into the clear sunshine and broad vistas of C major: an adumbration, surely, of one of the great moments in all Haydn, the move from the darkness of chaos to C major light in The Creation, composed 33 years later.

The one reservation to make about this disc is that the bass register of Derek’s Hass copy is somewhat lacking in strength and sonority compared with the rest of the instrument; but this hardly detracts from a disc which demonstrates that the clavichord, in the hands of an interpreter like Derek Adlam with a truly idiomatic technique, is uniquely capable of realizing the subtlety and individuality of each musical gesture, especially the filigree ar- peggio decorations that abound in Sonata 29’s first movement (bar 15 et seq.) and throughout the F minor Variations.

We are left wanting more Haydn from Derek. . . his interpretation of the great C minor Sonata (Hob. XVI.20), for example?

The BCS Bookshop sells Derek Adlam’s Haydn CD (and his two earlier Guild CDs) at £12 each, plus a post-and-packing charge per CD of £1.20 for the UK, £2.20 for the rest of the world. Please send a cheque made payable to ‘British Clavichord Society’ to Judith Wardman (BCS), 26A Church Lane, London N8 7BU. We aim to deal with orders promptly, but please allow 28 days for delivery (35 days for postage outside the UK). The full Bookshop stock list was published in BCS Newsletter No. 27 (Octo- ber 2003), and is available by post and on

British Clavichord Society


International Record Review – December

As president of the British Clavichord Society, as a recitalist, and through his involvement in instrument manufacture, Derek Adlam has been a major figure in the early keyboard revival for some years. His latest issue for Guild explores the music of a composer whom clavichordists have increasingly been claiming as their own: Franz Joseph Haydn.

Adlam presents an interesting programme ranging chronologically from the Capriccio (1765) to the F minor Variations (1793). Of all the works he chooses to play, the three sonatas seem the ones most suited to the instrument. The B minor (Hob. XVI/32), with its jagged melodic contours, is closest in style to the empfindsamer stile associated with C. P. E. Bach and the clavichord. Adlam here draws out the dramatic sweep of the music. Likewise, Haydn’s witty hand alternations in the F major Sonata (Hob. XVI/29) work excellently on the clavichord, with its instantaneous damping. Indeed, Adlam rattles through the faster movements with aplomb; the Capriccio, for instance, trots along merrily.

The clavichord, of course, is the expressive keyboard instrument par excellence, and if there is any advantage in recording on the instrument, it has to be that the expression comes to the fore. Adlam’s playing is a little disappointing in this respect. The subtlety that one might have hoped for in the Adagios of the D and F major Sonatas is sadly absent. Similarly, the Variations in F minor – surely one of Haydn’s most sublime creations – is delivered in an oddly matter-of-fact way. It stretches a point to claim this work as clavichord music, although it is certainly interesting to hear it as such. Even so, it needs a more heartfelt reading than Adlam gives it.

Finally, mention must be made of the quality of the recording. An essential pre-requisite for a clavichord recital, live or recorded, has to be absolute silence. Listen closely to this disc and you will hear a distressing amount of extraneous noise: passing cars, sounds from within the building (including page turns), and even at one point the distant shout of children. So, although the instrument is very fine, nicely tuned and is in itself well recorded, the recording venue reduces the pleasure of an otherwise informative disc.
Warwick Cole


Classical Net Review Wednesday October 01 2003

Derek Adlam has already featured on a couple of Guild discs devoted to late baroque keyboard music and this Haydn release shows him on the same fine form.

This is a very interesting collection of pieces that shows the Austrian master’s varied prowess as a versatile artist in any sort of repertoire. The opening Capriccio is a great party piece and Adlam treats it as such handling the variations with considerable skill.

The two sonatas are also played with consummate vigour by this prolific artist and the music comes across quite differently when compared to the sound of a piano. Occasionally, Beecham’s bitter diatribe about ‘skeletons in the closet’ does come to mind when listening to a long period of harpsichord!

Two sets of variations complete this recording which will definitely appeal to lovers of the instrument. As usual, Guild provide detailed notes and their presentation with parts from Breughel paintings are a perfect artistic match. If only more record companies could avoid those horrible artist photos on front covers!

By Paul Shoemaker

Many of you remember early experiments at recording the clavichord. Thurston Dart, Ralph Kirkpatrick and Igor Kipnis all produced on LP clavichord versions of baroque classics, and all such recordings are gone, and a good thing, too. They sounded awful and nothing like any clavichord I ever heard. And I should know, having owned a clavichord for more than 30 years and having struggled unsuccessfully for much of that time to learn to play it with any facility.

The problem is that the clavichord is really quiet. I mean really, really, REALLY quiet. Sticking the microphone close in creates a false sound not because the volume is raised but because noises in the instrument that normally fall below the threshold of hearing are made audible, and they seriously detract from the music. Trying to bring out only the music and suppress the noises leads to draconian acoustic and electronic filtering regimes, so much so that I have always felt that it would be better to use a synthesiser and recreate the experience of hearing the clavichord entirely from scratch.

Why now do we have so many really good clavichord recordings? Is it because we know more about recording now? No, I don’t think so. I think that the instrument has simply been redesigned so that modern piano technique can be used on it, and all the old clanks and scrapes and wobbles simply don’t occur. In other words, we have good clavichord recordings because the clavichord used is one Bach would not recognise. In a way we have synthesised the sound, but mechanically rather than electronically. A clue to this is the date of the model for Mr. Adlam’s copy. By 1763 the clavichord was engaged in a death struggle with the pianoforte which, having nearly finished devouring the harpsichord, was now hot after the clavichord as inexpensive and much easier to play pianofortes suitable for middle class homes began to appear. Such “improvements” as were possible to stabilise the clavichord sound were being implemented. I would like to hear Mr. Adlam play a single brass strung fretted clavichord from 1663.

I actually attended a clavichord concert once. The performer (the man who had sold me my clavichord) had spent his whole life learning three pieces, and the audience (there were 9 of us) heard his whole repertoire. Fortunately they were short pieces because the entire audience had to hold his or her breath throughout, with breathing and squirming—heaven forbid coughing!—only permitted between pieces. This instrument was a single strung instrument with full bebung, which means that the performer had complete control of the pitch of every note at every instant, hence every kind of tremolo and vibrato could be used, resulting in an ethereal singing quality comparable only to a violin, perhaps with echoes of a koto, and quite unlike anything on this disk.

Well, this koto is now strung with iron wire. The new clavichord is ganz bebungfrei. It sounds as if the keys bottom into a kind of space age plastic which totally damps the clunk while clamping the pitch within a microHertz, and the keyboard is likely also acoustically isolated from the sounding box by another space age plastic or computer designed vibration isolation mechanism, although I have heard that a stack of paper punchings can also be effective. The amplified transient, which can sound just like a galvanised garbage can (that’s a tin dusbin to friends in the UK) falling down concrete stairs, has somehow been miraculously stifled. The result of these improvements is that one’s clavichord touch is no longer forever ruined by five years of piano studies, and we hear something that sounds wonderful and not unlike a clavichord, although if Bach pére and/or fils were in the audience, they would curl their lips and look very askance.

But who’s complaining when the music is served so well? We are presented with three Haydn keyboard sonatas and three sets of variations. As the commentator (D.A. Welbeck) points out, Haydn is remarkably under rated, and this music confronts us with the terrifying possibility that it’s all so good we might have to hear all of it, a prospect best left, as in my case, to retirement years while living near a large university music library. Instrumental concerns aside, these are superb performances of the music, the best I’ve heard on any instrument. The performer has as thoroughly mastered the music as he has the instrument, and the variety of volume levels and textures available to him have been effectively utilised. This shows most strikingly in the variation sets which will be new to most of us, and further demonstrate Haydn’s astonishing and wide ranging genius. It is to be hoped Adlam will continue to record more of these works for us, and set a new standard in Haydn interpretation, aesthetically and sonically.