Douglas Mews and Broadwood give Haydn his dues

Haydn: Sonata in C, Hob.XVI:50 (allegro, adagio, allegro molto)

Andante with variations, in F minor, Hob.XVII:6

Sonata in E flat, Hob.XVI:52 (allegro, adagio, presto)

Douglas Mews, 1843 square Broadwood piano

St Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 22 August 2012, 12.15pm

It was intriguing to hear such a different piano; this instrument sounded like a cross between a harpsichord and a modern piano.  The three works performed were composed during the early 1790s, when Haydn made two lengthy visits to London.  The programme note described the pianos Haydn would have encountered in London as ‘fundamentally different [in] character to the Viennese pianos he was familiar with.’  It has a rather uneven timbre from bass to the top of its shorter keyboard, but this may be, at least in part, due to its age.  It has quite a range of dynamics compared with that of the harpsichord, but it is not comparable with the range available on the grand piano or upright piano (which had not been developed at the time this piano was made).

Douglas Mews’s programme note states that ‘The English sound was typified by a romantic ‘haze’, which undoubtedly had an effect on Haydn’s writing style’.

The sonata in C was a charming work; the variety of the variations and the modulations in the final movement made it an interesting one as well.  The second work encompassed a great range of dynamics, from delicacy through to the coda’s stormy mood.

In the second sonata, in E flat, I heard the resonance of the instrument more, and also the ‘hazy’ sound of the English piano referred to.  The sonata, to my ears, had more ‘body’ than did the previous one played.  It featured an emphatic first subject in the first movement, and winsome melody in the slow movement, with lilting variations upon it.  The finale was light and very capricious.  The prestidigitation required from Douglas Mews was formidable.

This was something different in the way of a piano recital: skilled playing of delightful music on a different instrument from the species usually encountered.


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