Richard Lester

Haydn: Six Keyboard Works Played on Historic Fortepianos

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British keyboardist Richard Lester, known above all for his superb cycle of Scarlatti's sonatas, tends to use a variety of instruments, even when covering a unified repertoire. He is one of the few performers to have occasionally played Scarlatti on the organ, for instance, and he gave good reasons, both historical and musical, for doing so. He doesn't so much try to match an instrument to the one the composer would have been using in creating the piece as use different instruments to illuminate currents in the music. There's a lot to be said for this approach, for musical ideas can often precede the technical means builders to devise to execute them, rather than the other way around. Ike Turner, it is said, played a guitar into an inverted toilet bowl on recordings well in advance of the invention of the reverb pedal. At any rate, it's not clear when Haydn began using a fortepiano, although he probably heard them sooner than Mozart did. The earlier sonatas among this group probably lack dynamic markings in their scores, which would seem to suggest that they were played on the harpsichord, or at least that publishers wanted to make sure they could be marketed that way. Yet Lester's recordings make a good case for the idea that, whether Haydn was using a fortepiano or not, he was writing music that could benefit from one. Examples occur in both the outer movements of these sonatas, where Lester punctuates Haydn's well-defined sonata forms with sharp little flourishes at the sectional junctures, and in the slow movements, where sustained, natural Italianate melody is made to seem perfectly comfortable on the fortepiano keyboard. Lester uses two fortepianos, one by Viennese maker Johann Schanz with a nicely exploited knee-activated volume moderato, and one an earlier Italian model with an especially gentle voice. Several of the pieces are rarities; the early Parthia in E flat major, Hob. 16/Es3, does not even claim a consensus that Haydn was the composer, but in Lester's hands its compact forms and sudden modulations seem to make him a very likely candidate. Lester's brilliant passagework makes Haydn sound a bit like Scarlatti sometimes, and there are other ways of phrasing these early- and middle-period sonatas. But these performances are musically persuasive all the way through.

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