Geoffrey Lancaster

Haydn: Complete Keyboard Sonatas, Vol. 1

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The booklet for this release, in English only, by Australian fortepianist Geoffrey Lancaster is a virtual compendium of the historical issues relating to the performance of Haydn's keyboard music, featuring no fewer than 186 footnotes. Along the way the buyer will find justifications for some of the many unusual features of this program, consisting of three Haydn sonatas. Each, for example, is introduced by a short prelude, which, Lancaster contends, a performer of Haydn's time would have improvised. Lancaster's preludes, however, are borrowed from Muzio Clementi in two cases and "composed just prior to the recording session" in the third. Lancaster also delves into the applicability of the fortepiano to these sonatas of the early 1770s, reasoning that although Haydn can be determined from correspondence not to have owned a fortepiano until the 1780s, the instrument was known to have been present in Vienna, and thus at least potentially heard by Haydn, as early as 1763. There's a great deal about Haydn to learn from the booklet, on matters from tempo to tuning to ornamentation and beyond, to such general questions as what contemporaries thought of Haydn's wit. The background doesn't show up clearly in Lancaster's playing, however. His instrument, a copy by American-Czech builder Paul McNulty of a late 1780s Stein instrument, is appropriate to his style, which is marked by an extremely percussive sound, considerable rhythmic freedom, and a generally tense mood that doesn't abate even in the minuets and slow movements. You can find justification for all this in the booklet, much of it flowing from the idea that the primary influence on Haydn during this period was C.P.E. Bach. Even if you accept this idea, which seems like a tall order in the case of a composer whose ears were open to so many different things, the constant quality of the fortepiano's sound gets a bit monotonous. Lancaster has created a really revolutionary sound for Haydn here, and that's all to the good. But whether it will emerge as a convincing one over the long term is hard to say.

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