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Haydn: Complete Works for Solo Keyboard - The Virtual Haydn

McGill University/Mookai Design Co, Plasma Postproduction, and Tom Beghin.

Naxos 8501203 and Naxos (Blu-ray) NBD0001-04

Musical Pointers 2011 Recording of The Year

Joseph Haydn lovers in Britain are very well served by recordings, some of them involving latest technologies.*

The newest to have come our way is Tom Beghin's totally amazing The Virtual Haydn, completed for the Haydn bicentenary in 2009, its original 2009 USA release in Blu-ray.

It has now been re-released in GB by Naxos (2011) in a modestly produced boxed set of 12 normal CDs + one DVD in paper sleeves.

For the last fornight we have been playing them all again and again, and in both formats, marvelling at the reconstructed original period instruments and Beghin's inspired playing.

The documentary DVD gives a full account of this pioneering project to record the mammoth oeuvre as if the performances on newly constructed instruments were in authentic settings where the originals would have been played in Haydn's own time; it is all so very innovative that a book Virtualising Haydn is in preparation. Ownership of Blu-ray players still remains restricted on both sides of the Atlantic.**

The new UK version is fine for collectors who don't have Blu-ray capability; the other is superior in packaging and convenience (all 18 hours on 4 discs), and the sound too is importantly superior.

There is a huge divide about pianos for 18th C music. For many years now we have espoused the fortepianos which have an ever increasing availability and profile at the highest level, most recently in Mozart performances and recordings by Bilson, Sonfronitsky, Bezuidenhout & their ilk, and are beginning to find it harder to enjoy this music on a Steinway.

I am not going here into questions of performance, save to say that Tom Beghin [L] is as gifted an interpreter of this corpus of keyboard music as you'd be likely to find anywhere; he is technically impeccable, totally to be trusted and, beyond that, many of his performances sound more spontaneous than academic, and are both beautiful to hear and viscerally exciting.

This is not a set for experts only, and within the 18 hours listening and learning everyone will discover marvellous music which they didn't know. Haydn's keyboard music spans, of course, a far longer period than Mozart's and many of the sonatas collected here are no way inferior to those of his younger contemporary.

I treasure this set as, unquestionably, our Recording of The Year and indeed one of the most remarkable combined achievements I've encountered during 60 years of intensive listening.

It is a shared achievement by musician/musicologist Tom Beghin with the extended Virtual Haydn team of two leading creative engineers, Martha de Francisco (producer) and Wieslaw Woszczyk (engineer), working closely with leading international makers of early keyboard instruments, who made and tended through the project copies of important instruments of Haydn's time.

The thick illustrated booklet is packed with information about all the music, and about virtual acoustics. A great deal is also explained and illustrated in the DVD which accompanies both the three "pure sound Blu-ray CDs" and the alternative 11 CDs in Naxos 8501203.

Treat yourselves on YouTube to seven introductory minutes explaining "Playing the Room", with Beghin, de Francisco and Woszczyk, also featuring early piano maker extraordinaire Chris Maene.

Peter Grahame Woolf

* For a fuller survey of Haydn in new formats and bargain prices, see Article Haydn Reissues (including the Complete Symphonies - Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra - & the later String Quartets - Amadeus Quartet).
To celebrate the Haydn bicentenary in style, you'll need all these sets !

** See Blu-ray is starting to gain some market share.