Douglas Allanbrook contributes a great deal to cultural life in Annapolis as a composer and professor of music at St. John's College. He even brought a poetic King Henry to the stage in the college's production of Shakespeare's "Henry IV, Part 2" last winter.
And as an able pianist with a consuming admiration for the music of Franz Joseph Haydn, he occasionally performs the unassuming Austrian genius' sonatas publicly, as he did Friday evening at St. John's Great Hall.
"I really am a living keyboard," Haydn said and, boy oh boy, do his piano sonatas bear him out. What extraordinary music.
There is always elegance in Haydn. He dispensed music of craft and taste with astonishing regularity. There is also that non-stop innovative exploration of melodic material that somehow manages to span the emotional globe every time out.
How compositions can be so neat as a pin andyet so adventurously volatile at the same time is one of the great head-scratchers of music history.
"Not from me -- it came from above," Haydn said to admirers after a performance of his great oratorio,"The Creation."
It's as good an explanation as any.
Haydn's piano sonatas get nowhere near the attention they deserve, which is a great shame because we need all the eloquence we can get these days. They are visionary works that look ahead to mid- and late-Beethoven and Schubert as surely as they speak with Franz Joseph's unmistakably unique voice.
Allanbrook shared two of them at Friday's recital: No. 32 in B minor and the A-flat major, No. 46. He did his audience agreat service by performing them with such wisdom and understanding, one composer to another. I would guess this is music that he has lived a long time.
The two sonata are a study in contrast.
The B minor is assertive, rather agitated Haydn, with extremes of color and mood. The second movement, "Menuet," for example, is a gracious, stormy trio that plays off the gentility of what comes before and after. In the fitful Finale, Allanbrook seemed to be barely breathing on the keys to gain the desired pianissimo before ripping into the concluding Presto.
As Allanbrook suggests in his program notes, the A-flat Sonata reveals more of the tenderness of Haydn.
The first movement contains a mesmerizing development section as the full brush strokes of the exposition are gently redrawn with translucent delicacy.
Thesublime Adagio is from the heartto the heart, while the zippy Finaleends unpredictably with a calm, chaste passage that brings the listener up a bit short -- exactly the unexpected effect this great composer intended.
What a magnificent piece it is, and Allanbrook's unerring sense of the music laid it out convincingly and agreeably.
Douglas Allanbrook the pianist is also, needless to say, an idiomatically assured performer of the works of Douglas Allanbrook the composer.Friday's concert provided the audience with a hearing of two of his works: "Twelve Preludes for All Seasons," and "Forty Changes."
"Twelve Preludes" is a personal work, as each of the 12 interludes was inspired by colleagues and friends of the composer. It is a mildly dissonant and pleasantly diverse piece as the composer/pianist movesfrompersonality to personality.
There are some particularly lovely moments: the gentle triplet motif in the "Pastorale"; the rather brooding Habanera associated with Virgil Thomson; and the emphatically contemplative sound alluded to in Prelude Seven. Preludes Eight and 11 pack a real wallop. Interesting folks, I say.
"Forty Changes" can't be called a Theme and Variations -- there's no theme, per se. But bits of melodic material are laid out at the beginning and turned every which way but loose in a succession of interludes. The mood alters from agitation to broader statements that summon the full sonorities ofthe piano, then to flowing triplets, a playful staccato section and a tranquil concluding nocturne.
Volatile and inventive: perhaps a 20th-century tip of the cap to the master with whom Allanbrook's works share the bill.