Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonatas: Nos. 40, 47, 54, 59.
Preludes: in E?; in g.
Preludes: in G
; in E?
Geoffrey Lancaster (pn)
TALL POPPIES 216 (66:22)
Here’s a delightful disc of Haydn sonatas (apparently, Vol. 3 of an ongoing series) with preludes by
other composers. In an earlier review, I said that Haydn wasn’t as fine a sonata composer as Mozart or his pupil Beethoven, and I still believe this to be true; but Lancaster’s remarkably vivacious interpretations, which include wonderful moments of rubato—and, more importantly, several
attacks which accentuate certain passages with great vigor—make these particular sonatas come to life. Listen, for instance, to his playful yet sensitive performance of the long
Adagio e cantabile
of Sonata No. 59, which he then energizes in the brisk alternating theme. At moments like this, one begins to appreciate the discursive musical thought that Haydn produced, although—as Lancaster even admits in his liner notes—there is “something inherently unembraceable in Haydn’s music; his humor is frequently not quite what it seems [and] his profoundly beautiful slow movements are austere.”
Lancaster precedes each sonata with preludes, two of his own devising and two by Muzio Clementi. As he explains in the notes, “preluding” a sonata was a normal feature of 18th-century performances, and in fact extended into the 19th century. Moreover, it was not optional; Lancaster insists “it was ‘regarded as a sign of musical good manners’ [Kenneth Hamilton,
After the Golden Age
], and allowed the performer to test the piano, its tuning, its acoustic equipment, and to assert his or her individuality.” Good for you, Geoffrey! We need more of a return to
18th-century performance practice, and this is as good a start as any. He further expands the expressive range of this music with improvised embellishments, another performance practice of the 18th century, particularly at those moments when such performer-enhanced additions were considered “
in slow movements in general, repeats in all compositional forms (including minuets), immediate phrase repetition, fermatas,” etc. He does admit that we are too far removed from 18th-century performances to know what “good taste” dictated, and how much improvisations was considered “too much,” but I for one believe that he does an excellent job.
Haydn’s sometimes quirky humor is brought out as well as the elegance of his
. Listen to the way Lancaster plays the Presto of the Sonata No. 54, with its hesitations that add not only to the humor but also to the musical suspense, and you’ll know what I mean. To this end, Lancaster further argues that the “perverse infiltration into the world of ‘early music’ of the ‘breathless,’ rhythmically inflexible ‘straight, mainstream, industrial, modernist’ style
is probably due to the combined influence of ignorance in musical high places, competitions, and an unquestioning adherence to contemporary musical fashion”
Lancaster plays these sonatas on two different fortepianos. Sonatas 59 and 40 are performed on a 1788 Stein instrument, while sonatas 54 and 47 are played on a 1795 Walter fortepiano. I do not like the recorded sound of the Stein instrument. The microphones are simply too close to it, which produces an uncomfortably dry, percussive, annoying sound quality that I am sure would not be heard in person. True, this allows us to hear Lancaster’s command of dynamics much clearer, but in this case the extra clarity is diminished by the unpleasant sound of the instrument. Of course, the microphones also sound very close to the Walter instrument, and that sound is not quite as abrasive, so who knows?
Despite my caveats regarding the sound, however, I strongly urge any admirer of Haydn to acquire at least this one disc. You will learn a great deal about the difference between written and interpreted music in an era when, for better or worse (the decision is yours), the written score did
tell the whole tale of how music should be performed.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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 Haydn’s time. It’s 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 doesn’t give you the Haydn bug, nothing will. The opening movement (tr. 2) 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 (0:43) 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 (4:10) but for me he presses forward too insistently in the coda (7:25). 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 (tr. 3) is marked ‘Adagio e cantabile’.
Lancaster’s brand of lyricism is unusual: hard-edged, hard-fought and hard-won, making for a different kind of expressiveness. It’s not beautiful but it holds your attention. A continually wayward individuality is stressed. There’s 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 (3:48) 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 piano’s mellow tone. Lancaster makes the increasingly labyrinthine ornamentation intrinsic to the passion. Occasional spleen notwithstanding, the search for resolution in the coda (8:00) is also movingly displayed.
The finale (tr. 4) begins with a smoothly flowing Minuet. Then the rather more characterized Trio (1:14) follows in which a laid-back proposal is countered by an emphatic retort. Lancaster’s interpretation of the Minuet is an intensely rhythmic and glittering affair in which beauty of shape is subordinated to the display. He’s 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 at 4:18 to invoke a minor key shadow. It’s 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 Lancaster’s 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. There’s 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 (tr. 7 0:59). Also a pleasure are the airier treatment of the episode in E minor (1:17) 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 (tr. 9 0:44) starts with an unexpected thunderous chord and the exposition ends with one. Lancaster’s presentation is fluent and insistent. The development finds a Schubertian vein of melancholy, especially from 3:59. This mood lingers in Lancaster’s 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 Lancaster’s 8:20, Schornsheim’s
Allegro moderato is barely that. The outcome is a movement of considerable energy. That said, there’s 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. It’s glitteringly pointed and precisely phrased. It’s 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. Schornsheim’s Menuet is dainty and neat but, again with a faster tempo (3:08 against Lancaster’s 4:27). In comparison she is short on charm at this point though her Trio is vigorous and strong. The Presto finale in Lancaster’s hands is notable for its powerfully crashing chromatic descents (tr. 11 0:14). 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, made more so by the lack of a second half repeat: from 3:47 to the end of tr. 13 should be repeated. Lancaster gives the opening theme a firm martial strut. The second theme (0:28) might have been more yielding: its demisemiquavers are too clipped. The play between the two hands from 1:13 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 Haydn’s use of canon throughout. In the first section the right hand leads and the left imitates; in the second (tr. 14 0:23) this procedure is reversed. I’m puzzled why the first section isn’t repeated though the second is: perhaps an editing slip?
-- Michael Greenhalgh, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Sonata for Keyboard no 47 in B minor, H 16 no 32 by Franz Joseph Haydn
Geoffrey Lancaster (Fortepiano)
Written: by 1776; Eszterhazá, Hungary
Venue: Llewellyn Hall, The Australian National
Length: 17 Minutes 59 Secs.
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