Fortepianist Sylvia Berry specializes in music of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and has performed widely as both soloist and chamber musician. Benjamin Dunham of Early Music America stated of a solo appearance: “Berry revealed a poetic sensibility and a willingness to draw listeners in with spaces to pause and reflect… while up-tempo movements were handled with verve.” Her work in Opera Boston’s production of La clemenza di Tito led Lloyd Schwartz to write in the Boston Phoenix, “Special applause for continuo fortepianist Sylvia Berry, [who played] as if she were one of the actors.” Since moving to Boston in 2005 she has performed regularly in the area, quickly becoming a favorite in Boston and beyond through her exciting performances and informative commentary about the music and the instruments she plays. She has also concertized on harpsichord, organ, and clavichord.
For her first commercial CD Sylvia has chosen the music of Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), a composer whose music she has long felt an affinity for. Having assiduously studied his keyboard output, it had long been a dream to play his London works (which comprise solo sonatas, piano trios, and songs) on an English piano. The opportunity finally presented itself in 2011 when she began playing an 1806 Broadwood and Son grand that was meticulously restored by her husband, Dale Munschy. The act of “transferring” these works from the Viennese pianos on which she had learned them to the Broadwood was electrifying. Not only did she get a sense of the surprise and wonder Haydn must have felt upon encountering these pianos - which are very different from the Viennese instruments he knew so well - but countless aspects of the music he wrote for them roared to life.
Naturally, there is also a certain excitement in playing an instrument built during Haydn’s lifetime. Haydn met John Broadwood (1732-1812), the premier keyboard instrument builder in London, during his first visit to the city in 1791. Broadwood gave Haydn space to compose in his workshop, affording the composer ample time to accustom himself to Broadwood’s pianos. Though the Broadwood used in this recording was built roughly ten years after Haydn’s second visit in 1794-95, the tone, timbre, and touch are virtually the same.
On a more personal level, Ms. Berry has always enjoyed the fact that the “London” works were written for women whom Haydn befriended during the first of his two visits. Of his three “London” sonatas, two (Hob. XVI: 50 and 52) were written for the celebrated virtuosa Theresa Jansen Bartolozzi, while the last (Hob. XVI: 51) was written for Maria Hester Park, a pianist and teacher of note in England. There is a marked difference in character between the Bartolozzi and Park sonatas, illustrating that Haydn knew well the personality and musicianship of both women. Throughout his career Haydn tailored works to numerous dedicatees, including several woman whose musicality he respected immensely.
Also included in this recording are two smaller works – the Adagio in G major Hob. XV:22/II composed in 1794, and the Variations on “Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser" (Hob. XVII: Anhang) written in 1797. While the Variations were not written in London, Haydn’s inspiration for the theme was the British national anthem.
Haydn in London: The Piano Sonatas, will appear on the Acis label, helmed by Geoffrey Silver.
- (30 days)