Joseph Haydn and his London Disciples

Rebecca Maurer fortepiano
Genuin classics GEN19650
Music by Haydn, Thomas Haigh and Charles Ignatius Latrobe

Haydn’s visits to London were notable from a number of aspects, above all their great success with the capital’s concert-going public, but also for his interaction with native composers. It was an interaction that worked both ways, leading not only to a significant body of works by English composers either influenced by or dedicated to Haydn, but also to the visitor embracing in his own compositions such quintessentially native forms as the catch and the glee.

The present CD focuses on the former, framing works by Thomas Haigh (1769-1808?) and Christian Ignatius Latrobe (1758-1836) between sonatas composed by Haydn for his second London visit. Both the Sonatas in C (Hob XVI:50) and in E-flat (Hob XVI:52) date from 1794 or 5 and comprise two of three dedicated to Therese Jansen, an exceptionally talented pupil of Clementi; they are also the last group of piano sonatas composed by Haydn. That Jansen was a virtuoso is clear from the size and scope of these works, big pieces that require considerable technique and fingering strength in such as the outer movements of the E-flat Sonata. They are also admirably suited to the instrument played by the German keyboard player Rebecca Maurer, a Broadwood of 1816 with a bell-like upper register and bold, resonant bass. As Maurer points out in her excellent notes, with these sonatas the piano leaves the confines of the salon and enters the concert hall. Her actions match her words; these are performances at once boldly virtuosic and sensitively poetic, performances in which her ability to lay out counterpoint clearly is matched by a strong sense of innovatory fantasy and appreciation of Haydn’s wit. Listen, for example, to the fun of the light staccato touch Maurer brings to the opening of the C-major Sonata, or the boldness of that of No. 52, a boldness complemented by the wonderful moment of suspense created by the silence that precedes the codetta of the exposition. In short this is Haydn playing of a high order.

Little is known of London-born Thomas Haigh, other than that he studied with Haydn during the course of his first visit to London in 1791-92. His Sonata in B flat is one of three published in 1796 and ‘humbly dedicated (by Permission) to Dr. Haydn’. Like its fellows it is in two movements, the first of which opens with an adagio before proceeding to a bright-eyed sonata-form Allegro with many scalic flourishes. The second movement Allegretto is based on ‘a celebrated air by Asioli’, a rather naïve rondo with Alberti bass. Published in the same year are three rondos with the principal theme based on one of the popular canzonettas Haydn composed in 1794, the episodes being of Haigh’s composition. His Fantasie was published posthumously (in 1817) and again pays tribute to his master by juxtaposing somewhat incongruously the famous ‘Emperor’s Hymn’ with the whirling folk dance that forms the finale of the ‘Drumroll’. While Haigh’s music is not without interest it is less engaging than that of the Moravian minister and dilettante composer Christian Latrobe, represented here by only the central Lente (sic) movement of his Sonata in B flat, opus 3/2. According to Latrobe Haydn visited him and having heard the sonatas suggested he publish them, which the former agreed to do if Haydn would allow him to dedicate them to him. The appealing movement played by Maurer has a simple song-like theme in the sentimental style. It would be interesting to hear the rest of the sonata if it is all as good as this.

Maurer plays the lesser works of Haigh and Latrobe with as much insight and respect that she brings to the Haydn. To cap off what is both an interesting and extremely well-played and recorded CD, the presentation is exemplary, including not only notes on music and performer but also colour photographs and a description of the piano.

Brian Robins

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