Friday 19 December 2014

A most rewarding disc from Navona Records features pianist Patrick Hawkins in works by Maria Hester Reynolds Park and Haydn played on an 1831 William Geib Square Piano

Maria Hester Park (née Reynolds) (1760-1813) was born in England and, as well as being a composer and pianist, she was a noted piano teacher who taught many students in the nobility, including the Duchess of Devonshire and her daughters.

Before her marriage, she was a keyboard performer for the permanent orchestra in the Music Room in Oxford. By the age of twenty two she is reported as having played a harpsichord concerto at the Hanover Square concert series in London, played a Clementi duet with Jane Mary Guest on 29 April 1783, a concerto at Willis's Rooms, London in March 1784 and a performance as Mrs Park in May 1791.

After her marriage in 1787 to Thomas Park, an engraver turned antiquarian, she ended her career as a performer, continuing to compose and teach. Maria and Thomas Park came into contact with Joseph Haydn who, on 22 October 1794, sent her a copy of his Sonata in D major, Hob. XVI:51 and a thank you letter in exchange for two of her pieces. She died in Hampstead, London at the age of 53, after many years of ill health, leaving four daughters.

The music of Maria Hester Park Reynolds and the link to Haydn is the subject of a new release from Navona Records , entitled Haydn and the English Lady, featuring pianist Patrick Hawkins  who plays an 1831 William Geib Square Piano.
NV 5981

The disc includes enhanced content which can be accessed by placing the CD in a computer to find a wealth of information concerning the music, the performer, the instrument, and two excellent videos where Thomas Strange, the restorer of the instrument used here, gives a history of the square piano.

Maria Hester Reynolds Park’s Sonata in E flat major, Op.4 No.2 receives its premiere recording here. In the Allegretto the 1831William Geib square piano produces a surprisingly rounded tone. Although the re-occurring opening theme is a little plain there are some fine passages as the music is developed with some fine flourishes, adeptly played here by Patrick Hawkins who shows a fine fluency.

There is a delightful, limpid Andante e cantabile with playing of fine dexterity and some lovely phrasing before the Rondo (Allegro) which moves forward with a fine flow, Hawkins extracting some lovely fluent, rounded phrases from his instrument.

In another premiere recording, Reynolds Park’s Waltz in E flat major, follows the French tradition and has an Introduction (Andante) before the Waltz (Allegretto). The introduction has some unusual dynamic interruptions in the form of firm chords to interrupt the gentle flow. Hawkins lays out the introduction beautifully before an attractive Allegretto that reveals some inventive little ideas. 

With Reynolds Park’s Sonata in F major, Op.4 No.1 Hawkins has decided to insert the Andante cantabile e sostenuto, from the composer’s Sonata Op.2 No.2 to make this a three movement work. Given that Haydn is represented later on this disc by a two movement sonata, it does at first sight seem a little unnecessary but can of course be programmed out. The Allegro has a more interesting and flowing opening than Op.4 No.2 with a lovely central section that is harmonically interesting. It is surprising the strength and power that can be encouraged from this piano by Hawkins.

It must be said that the Andante cantabile e Sostenuto does fit well into this sonata with its gentle flow and attractive slower moments, justifying Hawkins’ decision to insert it before the Tempo di minuetto that has an attractive sprung rhythm finely brought out by Hawkins. The theme is varied centrally before the opening returns to take us to the coda.

Reynolds Park’s Sonata in C major, Op.7 opens with an Allegro spirito, full of panache as it pushes forward with a lovely recurring rising theme. This is a most attractive work, a significant advance on Op.4 though apparently only published a year later. Hawkins delights in revealing so many attractive elements of the music with a light fluent touch, fine phrasing and a sense of discovery. There is a rather attractive Larghetto full of fine details nicely brought out here. The concluding Rondo (Allegramente) that follows has a really catchy tune with a lively rhythm that and some particularly fluent playing. Later there is a rising scale to reflect the first movement with this pianist extracting some fine dynamics from the instrument.

Franz Joseph Haydn is represented by the very Sonata that, in 1794, he sent as a gift to Maria Hester Reynolds Park, his Sonata in D major, Hob XVI/51. Patrick Hawkins brings much delight in the Andante, nicely phrased, with a rhythmic lilt that is most attractive, bringing out all of Haydn’s flowing invention. An absolute delight as is the Presto with Hawkins handling all of Haydn’s rhythms so well, managing to pull so much variety of tone and sonority from this instrument.

More Haydn follows with a nicely shaped Adagio in G major, Hob. XV/22, where some lovely textures are drawn from the piano with beautifully fluent little runs on the keyboard and fine control of dynamics.

Haydn’s Capriccio in G major, Hob XVII/1 provides a buoyant piece to conclude, bringing out Haydn’s lighter side in a performance that evokes sheer joy with some lovely little trills and a terrific coda.

Maria Hester Reynolds Park has no ground breaking ideas to convey but there are many attractive features to her works showing her to be an accomplished musician. Patrick Hawkins has chosen the right scale of pieces by Haydn to sit beside Reynolds Park making a satisfying recital. This is a fine opportunity to investigate an aspect of musical life in London around the time of Haydn’s last visit with, indeed, some attractive music.

Navona Records have got the recorded balance just right with clear detail and none of the intrusive sounds that can often emanate from old instruments. This is a most rewarding disc.

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