Tall Poppies


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Joseph Haydn: Complete Keyboard Sonatas, Volume 3

Geoffrey Lancaster - fortepiano

$23   (Australian dollars)


buy at: AMC - Buywell - iTunes

Tall Poppies and fortepianist Geoffrey Lancaster continue to journey through Joseph Haydnís complete keyboard sonatas. Lancaster presented the complete cycle of 52 sonatas in concert in Melbourne, Perth and Canberra to mark the Haydn Bicentenary in 2009, has recently presented excerpts in Sydney and London, and has been recording the works using period instruments from the unique collection of early keyboards at the ANU School of Music, where Lancaster is professor of music. Critically acclaimed as Ďa genius of the fortepianoí, Dr Lancaster is one of Australiaís most distinguished keyboardists and was the first Australian to win a major international keyboard competition. His honours include the ARIA Best Classical Album, Gramophone Best Recording, the Sounds Australian Award, the Order of Australia, and ACT Australian of the Year.
This series reveals the genius of Haydn. Lancaster plays with amiable virtuosity, embellishing as he goes, and finding all the latent humour and passion in these magnificent sonatas. His historically-informed performances bring clarity, originality, and insightful musical understanding to these works, the fortepianos responding with gusto to the drama and emotion in the music.

Joseph HaydnPrelude in E-flat major
Sonata No. 59 in E-flat major

Prelude in G major
Sonata No. 54 in G major

Prelude in B minor
Sonata No. 47 in B minor

Prelude in E-flat major
Sonata No. 40 in E-flat major


Geoffrey Lancasterís masterly survey of Haydnís 52 keyboard sonatas continues with the third volume being released on the Australian Tall Poppies label.

Lancaster, who performed all the sonatas on fortepiano in concert in Melbourne, Canberra and Perth to mark Haydnís bicentenary in 2009, has used the ANU School of Musicís collection of early instruments for the recording project. He is professor of music at the Canberra school.

This latest album features four sonatas - No.59 in E-flat major, No.54 in G major, No.47 in B minor and No.40 in E-flat major - each introduced by an improvised brief prelude in the appropriate key.

Lancasterís own liner notes are comprehensive and scholarly, and the series features a Fred Williams painting on its cover - in this case My Garden.

The music is full of charm, elegance, wit and drama and the use of the fortepiano lends it an intimacy and authenticity you wonít hear on a concert Steinway.
Steve Moffatt
Manly Daily February 2012

Having last month nominated Tom Beghin's ground breaking Virtual Haydn DVD + CDs as our classical piano Recording of the Year (2011), I have received from Australia this week a complementary (I avoid thinking 'rival') volume 3 of an ongoing project from Geoffrey Lancaster. (I reviewed Vol 1 briefly in 2010.)

This latest volume I found every bit as compelling as Beghin's. It has no "gimmickry" but is graced with a long, learned essay which, after much effort and a magnifying glass in a good light, I verified as by Lancaster himself - he quotes Beghin in his bibliography. It can be hard for many music lovers to read tiny print on a dark background; this here reproduced exactly!
That apart, the presentation is exemplary and I like the informality of Lancaster's appreciation of his colleagues in the project, notably for the contribution of Belinda Webster, producer at the sessions and our contact down under...

I find Vol 3, with several of my favourite sonatas, compelling to the extent that having intending sampling for review purposes, I played them all straight through, feeling that they represented how I had aimed to play them on my Schiedmayer upright (more suitable than a Steinway) in my piano playing days. (I cannot go along with Lancaster's conceding that Haydn can never become a "wholly popular composer like Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin or Tchaikowsky"; see my many writings on Haydn intégrales in Musical Pointers).

The essence of Lancaster's approach is dealt with in his cogent section on Declamatory Performance vs. the 'Straight, Mainstream, Industrial, Modernist' Style, in which he also deals with ornamentation and improvised "preluding", which was expected in Haydn's time. The 'S, M, I, M' style is exemplified, I guess, by John McCabe's pioneering first complete recording of the sonatas on modern piano, which I had enjoyed in its time. 

I look forward to the completion of Geoffrey Lancaster's series, hopefully as a boxed set in due course.
©Peter Grahame Woolf
Musical Pointers

In one particular way, these performances of Haydn's Sonata Nos 59 in E-flat Major, 54 in G Major, 47 in B Minor and 40 in E-flat Major are the antithesis of scholarly. Well, they are scholarly in the best sense, but are also free of any stuffiness or dryness, as Geoffrey Lancaster unleashes two reproductions of late 18th¬century fortepianos to bring out as much of the diversion, wit and unceasing drama that can be summoned from these scores. These are very free readings, seeking to express Haydn's amazing reservoir of lively inventiveness.

As part of his musical adventure, Lancaster reverts to a very old musical practice of adding a short Prelude before each sonata. Some of these are based on old original preludes from other hands; some are composed by Lancaster himself at the keyboard. And in another reversion to historical practice, he resiles from a literal reading of the score to add appropriate improvised embellishments.

The two closely-recorded fortepianos reveal the age of their design - they groan and creak at times, leaving polished perfection to a later generation of keyboard designers. These lovingly crafted replicas from leading fortepiano maker Paul McNulty are almost human in their individuality. Theirs is a sprightly, springy sound. They yield a timbre that is very easy to fall in love with.

Lancaster's performances come across as not definitive, but idiosyncratic, serving the immortal spirit of the music in a free and robust way.
Anthony Clarke, Limelight, January 2012

This series comes with extensive notes by Geoffrey Lancaster and the innovative feature of prefacing every sonata with an improvised prelude. This emulates the practice adopted in Haydnís time. Itís a settling device, getting you used to key and piano before Haydn enters. In any event these preludes - all playing for less than a minute and most less than 30 seconds - are also separately tracked so you can skip them if you wish. The Preludes related to each sonata are as follows:-

Sonata No. 59: Prelude in E flat major by Muzio Clementi [0:15]
Sonata No. 54: Prelude in G major composed just prior to the recording session, containing elements of a prelude by Joseph Diettenhofer [0:52]
Sonata No. 47: Prelude in B minor by Muzio Clementi [0:21]
Sonata No. 40: Prelude in E flat major composed just prior to the recording session, containing elements of a prelude by Johann Nepomuk Hummel [0:33]

Whether you listen to the preceding Clementi or not, if Sonata 59 doesnít give you the Haydn bug, nothing will. The opening movement is extraordinarily packed and contrasted. Lancaster dramatizes it to the full. A vigorous opening phrase with heavy punctuation in the left hand is immediately answered by a smoother, more placatory one. From 0:20 onwards all is expansive, looking outwards and upwards. A second thematic group starts more florid. It later delights in extreme melodic contrasts as treble and bass take the spotlight in turn. Lancaster is very good at the spikier development of the opening theme but for me he presses forward too insistently in the coda. What comes across, however, is a wilful and passionate piece. The use of fortepiano and close recording enhances a raw and uncompromising quality. The slow movement is marked ĎAdagio e cantabileí.

Lancasterís brand of lyricism is unusual: hard-edged, hard-fought and hard-won, making for a different kind of expressiveness. Itís not beautiful but it holds your attention. A continually wayward individuality is stressed. Thereís an evident determination to be awkward in turn of phrase, range and leap of melody. The intricate ornamentation is shown to be part of the intensity of the expression. The central section in B minor is bitterly resolute with crashing bass octaves and an increasingly overwrought treble. Then follows a wonderfully simple, crystalline descent and a tender return to the opening melody. This is aided by the Stein pianoís mellow tone. Lancaster makes the increasingly labyrinthine ornamentation intrinsic to the passion. Occasional spleen notwithstanding, the search for resolution in the coda is also movingly displayed.

The finale begins with a smoothly flowing Minuet. Then the rather more characterized Trio follows in which a laid-back proposal is countered by an emphatic retort. Lancasterís interpretation of the Minuet is an intensely rhythmic and glittering affair in which beauty of shape is subordinated to the display. Heís particularly happy with the more pungent aspects of the Trio. The Minuet, on its return, moves from E flat major to a pensive E flat minor. This makes the calm of the close, again in the major, a welcome resolution. Lancaster colours the apex of the final appearance of the melody to invoke a minor key shadow. Itís a chilling effect though not what Haydn wrote. Lancaster likes to challenge you.

Sonata 54 begins marked Allegretto e innocente. Lancaster gets across both the feel of a contented dance and a pulse which suggests an underlying tension. A straightforward tune proves to be full of intricate detail. This is further enhanced by Lancasterís consistent practice of increasing elaboration of ornamentation in the repeated passages. The change from G major to a section in G minor (tr. 6 2:08) is marked by an infusion of tragic tension. Thereís pointing to match though arguably this becomes overly emphatic. The return to G major brings more welcome playful decoration in semiquavers. This is played with affection and mastery. The closing section enjoys both grandeur and cheeky simplicity. Lancaster fully exploits the greater density and brilliance of the Walter piano. The Presto finale comes fast and frisky and full rein it accorded to its dynamic contrasts and cadential and other leaps. I enjoyed his imaginative addition of a cascading glissando at the midpoint of the repeat of the second section. Also a pleasure are the airier treatment of the episode in E minor and the surprise of the gentle holding back of the final note.

Sonata 47 is one of the great Haydn piano sonatas. A resolutely stern opening is quickly followed by more expansive, sighing reflection. The second theme starts with an unexpected thunderous chord and the exposition ends with one. Lancasterís presentation is fluent and insistent. The development finds a Schubertian vein of melancholy. This mood lingers in Lancasterís sensitive presentation. Subtle variations of tempo are used quite freely yet always expressively in terms of the overall mood.

I compared the 2003-4 recording by Christine Schornsheim (Capriccio 49 404) who plays a 1793 fortepiano by Louis Dulcken. Timed at 5:34 against Lancasterís 8:20, Schornsheimís Allegro moderato is barely that. The outcome is a movement of considerable energy. That said, thereís little of the reflection and pathos that Lancaster reveals through adopting a tempo closer to Andante. To the second movement Menuet Lancaster brings, with breadth and poise, a vivid impression of its dance origin. Itís glitteringly pointed and precisely phrased. Itís also self-consciously crafted. You can hear this in the intricacy of the ornamentation Lancaster adds in the repeats. The Trio is richer, more dusky in tone and brooding. Schornsheimís Menuet is dainty and neat but, again with a faster tempo (3:08 against Lancasterís 4:27). In comparison she is short on charm at this point though her Trio is vigorous and strong. The Presto finale in Lancasterís hands is notable for its powerfully crashing chromatic descents. The manic spinning ostinato from 0:33 dominates the rest of the exposition and returns to complete the sonata. This is breathtaking playing: at his best Lancaster fully absorbs you in his intensity. Schornsheim is fiery but not as fiercely punchy and percussive.

Sonata 40 is relatively short and concentrated. Lancaster gives the opening theme a firm martial strut. The second theme might have been more yielding: its demisemiquavers are too clipped. The play between the two hands is attractive and the lyrical features benefit from the ornamentation of the exposition repeat. Lancaster has the second movement Tempo di Menuet flowing easily and restfully. This serves to clarify Haydnís use of canon throughout. In the first section the right hand leads and the left imitates; in the second this procedure is reversed.
Michael Greenhalgh

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