Geoffrey Lancaster (fortepiano)
Eileen Joyce Studio, UWA
reviewed by Neville Cohn
Some time ago, during a TV interview, famed mezzo Cecilia Bartoli was asked whether she thought she had been touched by the finger of God. Modestly, she said she doubted it – but, tongue in cheek – she conceded that the Lord might possibly have waved ‘hullo’ from a distance.
After listening to Geoffrey Lancaster’s artistry in this series of Haydn recitals, I’d like to think that God Almighty would not only have waved to him but invited him in for afternoon tea.
Perhaps once in a generation, sometimes even less frequently, there’s an opportunity to hear Haydn’s complete keyboard sonatas. Perth concertgoers were offered this rare opportunity in July.
Geoffrey Lancaster is one of the very few fortepianists anywhere in the world to have taken on this immense challenge. And in these recitals, it was at once apparent that he has in abundance those crucial attributes essential to embark on so vast a musical enterprise: fearless, superbly educated fingers, an intellect of highest order, rare expressive insights – and the staying power of a primed athlete.
Not the least of the many delights of the sonatas (more than fifty) was Lancaster’s linking commentary deriving from a lifetime’s consideration of these wonderful but often neglected keyboard gems. Lancaster’s knowledge of the circumstances surrounding each of these gems is encyclopaedic.
As well, in the style of Haydn’s day, the performance of each sonata was prefaced by a brief prelude by the performer: an extemporaneous flourish here, a little series of rapid arabesques there, some scales up and down the keyboard – and then the magic of Haydn interpreted by a keyboard master at the height of his powers.
Rapid passagework that called strings of perfectly matched pearls to mind – and the extraordinary richness of Lancaster’s ornamentation of the music – were two only of the many factors he employed to expound Haydn’s idiosyncratic musical argument in the most persuasive and satisfying ways.
I noticed a few members of the audience closely following Lancaster’s performances in the printed score and scribbling comments in the margins, doubtless interpretative insights of a valuable sort to pass on to pupils.
It’s impossible to overstate the significance of this series. The chances of encountering these works here again soon as a cycle, are very, very small. In over fifty years of busy concertgoing, this has been the first opportunity I’ve had to listen to many of these extraordinary works in a single series.
Currently, Lancaster is recording the Haydn cycle of sonatas for the Tall Poppies label.