One of the finest I have heard
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Haydn and the English Lady Maria Hester PARK (1760-1813)
Sonata in E flat, Op.4 No.2 [11:19]
A Waltz in E flat [5:15]
Sonata in F, Op.4 No.1 [9:32]
Sonata in C, Op.7 [16:44] Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Sonata in D, Hob.XVI/51 [6:26]
Adagio in G, Hob.XV/22 [5:33]
Capriccio in g, Hob.XVII/1 [8:30]
Patrick Hawkins (square piano)
rec. 2014, Recital Hall, University of South Carolina Music School NAVONA NV5981 [63:00]
Given the somewhat prurient nature of present-day society (or, perhaps, it’s just my fascination with scandalous gossip), the title of this CD set me wondering what new sexual conquest had been uncovered from Haydn’s London sojourn. There is certainly plenty out there in scholarly research and critical innuendo to suggest his time in England was not without its occasional intimate liaison with members of the opposite sex – nobody has yet suggested Haydn took a sexual interest in members of his own sex, but surely that time will come. However the connection between Haydn and the “English Lady” in question, one Maria Hester Park, was purely artistic – the booklet notes, extensive, scholarly but, sadly, anonymous, merely state that “visual art, not music, originally connected Haydn and Maria Park”. Haydn had purchased two engravings by Thomas Park, and in his letter of thanks for them he enclosed what he described as “a little Sonat” for “the Mistris Parck”. Conjecture - in the form of associating the musical character of Haydn’s Sonata in D to the subject matter of one of the engravings – has led to the assumption that this is the work which Haydn presented to Maria Park.
The two other Haydn miniatures on the disc make no such claims on a Park connection. The Adagio was certainly composed while he was in London (in 1794), but its dedicatee was one of the women in the Esterhazy court back in Austria, Princess Maria Hermenegild. The Capriccio dates right back to 1765. Only in this piece do we get a hint of sexual impropriety; it is based on a comic song the title of which translates as “it takes eight of you if you want to castrate a boar”.
Maria Reynolds was a keyboard player with the permanent orchestra based in the Oxford Music Room and, with her marriage to the London-based poet and engraver Thomas Park, she turned to composing, producing between 1785 and 1811 a total of 13 numbered works including seven solo sonatas for keyboard and a keyboard concerto. This disc contains three of the sonatas, the two published as Op.4 in 1790 and the Op.7 Sonata of 1796, along with a Waltz published in 1800 without opus number.
If we were to search for a musical link, we might find it in the very Haydnesque Rondo of the E flat Sonata and in the lyrical Larghetto of the C major Sonata, but while it is difficult to pinpoint a specific musical idiom which distinguishes Park from other keyboard composers of the time, she is revealed here as a composer of assured ability. Many of her themes fail to allow opportunities for development – the final movement of the C major Sonata seems to spend its time searching around for some coherent musical thread and too often dissolves into florid, decorative but ultimately sterile byways – and there is underlying it all a feeling that this is music to exercise the fingers rather than the intellect; it surprises me that the music exam boards haven’t taken this up with a vengeance, it’s the sort of stuff that is right up their street.
Two things elevate this music and make it worth hearing. The first is the instrument and the second the player. The instrument is a square piano, built around 1731 by William Geib. His father, John, had built pianos in London (coincidentally for the same firm who had printed Park’s music) and emigrated to New York in 1797 where the family set up in business and became one of the most prestigious piano makers in early 19th century America. Restored in 2013 by William Strange, the instrument has a distinctive sound quality, charming, intimate yet robust, especially in the lower to middle register. Its lack of sustaining power proves to be no handicap, given its delightfully innocent upper register, and the lovely little melody on which the Haydn Adagio is built sing out with undisguised innocence. Captured in a delicately balanced and suitably intimate recording, this makes a simply adorable sound.
Patrick Hawkins, if his biography is anything to go by, seems to have spent his life chasing around universities and teachers collecting degrees and advice on playing. His playing certainly has that slightly technically-focused quality which tends to obscure the pure joy of music making – nowhere more obvious than in a very strait-laced and humourless account of the Haydn Capriccio – but it is consistently supported by a clear historical understanding and an obvious desire to present the detail of the scores with minimal interpretative baggage. I suspect that any self-respecting student could come up with a pretty fair version of the original score simply by using Hawkins’ careful and precise performances as dictation.
This is more a disc presenting something historical with scholarly restraint than an unabashed exhibition of communicative music-making, but not only is the music played utterly charming in its own right, the sound of this delightful piano is truly captivating. Marc Rochester