Tall Poppies


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Joseph Haydn

Complete Keyboard Sonatas, vol. 2
Geoffrey Lancaster, fortepiano

$23   (Australian dollars)


buy at: AMC - Buywell - iTunes

2009 was the bicentenary of the death of Joseph Haydn, and to commemorate this anniversary Tall Poppies and fortepianist Geoffrey Lancaster are journeying through Haydn’s complete keyboard sonatas. Lancaster has performed the complete sonatas in concert series in Melbourne and Canberra, and has been recording the works using period instruments from the unique collection of early keyboards at the Australian National University School of Music, where Dr Lancaster is Head of Keyboards. As a master of the fortepiano, his historically-informed performances bring clarity, originality and insightful musical understanding to these works, the fortepiano responding with gusto to the drama and emotion in the music. Tall Poppies is proud that the covers for this series feature paintings by Australia’s great painter, Fred Williams (with kind permission of Lyn Williams), giving this series a uniquely Australian flavour. The initial CDs have been generously supported by the Friends of the ANU School of Music.

Volume 1 (TP201) has garnered great praise from the critics:
“This is an important, indeed watershed recording.” Music Forum May 2010
“This will be a series to collect.” The Australian
“…the most winning and flexible interpretations of some of Haydn’s finest and most lovable sonatas… An imperative purchase, and one that should hasten the death-knell of the ubiquitous Steinway in this repertoire.” Musical Pointers
“As Haydn and the classical music mainstream go, this is a daring move but one that should be in the mainstream of how recordings add value to musical life. The results are preposterous but thoroughly delightful and should be on every Haydn lover’s wish list.” May 2010 Audiophile Audition

Joseph Haydn

Prelude in D major
Sonata No. 30 in D major (Hob. XVI:19) - 1767
Prelude in E minor
Sonata in No. 53 in E minor (Hob. XVI:34) - ca. 1780 - 1783
Prelude in F major
Sonata No. 38 in F major (Hob. XVI:23) - 1773
Prelude in D major
Sonata No. 16 in D major (Hob. XVI:14) - ca. 1761/2 - ca. 1767


Geoffrey Lancaster’s project to record all of Haydn’s piano sonatas started in early 2010 with the release of three sonatas from the middle period, Nos. 31-33. Depending on how one chooses to count them, there are 52-62 works in all, requiring 10-12 discs, so the project is still very much in its infancy with the arrival of this second disc, of Sonatas Nos. 16, 30, 38 and 53. But what already makes Lancaster’s set uniquely interesting is the way he precedes each sonata with a prelude, in accordance with what he argues in his excellent sleeve essay is common eighteenth- and nineteenth-century century keyboard practice. lt was usual, he contends, for pianists to improvise a little before beginning a performance, to test the tuning and generally ready themselves.

Composed by Lancaster himself, the effect of the preludes is intriguing. On one hand they sound stylistically later than the sonatas themselves. He draws on ideas from works by other pianist-composers of roughly the same period - Diettenhofer (c.1749-c.1799), Horsley (1774-1858) and Rawlings (1775-1849) - and despite their pre-Romantic sweeping arpeggios and fuller chords, his little preludes match extremely well in terms of setting the mood. More tellingly, they create an improvisatory mood that flows onto the sonatas and feeds them a palpable spontaneity; it is in this domain that Lancaster excels, and that his cycle holds special interest.

His performances are genial and conversational in character, in keeping with the domestic setting of this music in its historical period: Lancaster is able to lift this music out of the modern concert hall aesthetic and transfer it back to what one imagines were the more personable, intimate surroundings of Haydn’s time. Playing copies of Stein and Walter fortepianos, he again uses much rubato, far more so than other period performers or even ‘conventional’ performers will. He varies speed through a phrase, often starting deliberately, accelerating through to the apex and then flattening out or easing up at the tail end. Pauses are often given more than their written length. The contrast this lends to Haydn’s flow of ideas equates very much with the Empfindsamer Stil upon which much of his keyboard music is founded; it can sound mannered but it is the way Lancaster achieves this conversational quality.

He takes Sonata No. 30 in D major, Hob. XVl:19, in a relaxed, jovial manner. The exchange of melodic ideas is cleanly articulated and brought out in high relief. Lancaster’s playing brims with extrovert personality compared to the drier, stiffer way this sonata is often played: he places the focus very much on the gestural shape of individual phrase. Sonatas Nos. 16 in D major, Hob. XVl:14, and 38 in F major, Hob. XVl:23, sound similarly bright and amiable. The fullest use of rubato-based expression comes in Sonata No. 53 in E minor, Hob. XVl:34, to the point indeed where it will surprise some listeners. Again though, it is Lancaster’s way of opening up a sense of dialogue in Haydn’s music, and it has a firm historical basis.
Graham Strahle
Music Forum February 2011

Feeling a little grumpy? Here’s a cure. Load up your iPod with some Haydn keyboard sonatas and head for the streets.

You’ll see the world through different eyes - one moment elegant, another playful, perhaps a little tragic, or then again witty and celebratory.

And to guide you through this treasure trove of musical wisdom and delight is internationally-renowned concert pianist Geoffrey Lancaster who is recording the complete 62 sonatas for Australia’s Tall Poppies label.

Lancaster is head of keyboards at Canberra’s Australian National University School of Music, and he uses two fortepianos from the uni’s collection on his new recording, the second volume in what will probably stretch to 14 or 15 discs.

Like its predecessor it is nicely packaged with some scholarly liner notes by Lancaster himself and one of Fred Williams’s Australian landscapes on the cover.

This album comprises four sonatas - 30, 53, 38 and 16 - and each is preceded by a little improvised prelude in the same key which sets the scene and makes a convenient aural link to the next work.

Each sonata is quite different in mood and even scale. The D major 30th is popular in concert halls, usually played on a grand, but it loses none of its impact once your ear attunes to the smaller and more intimate sound world of the fortepiano.

Producer Belinda Webster has managed a much warmer presence than the ABC Classics album Lancaster recorded previously.

Joseph Haydn’s Complete Keyboard Sonatas Volume 2 (TP208) is available in good music stores now.
Steve Moffatt. 11 October, 2010

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