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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Concerto in F major, Hob.XVIII:3 (c.1766) [20:07]
Concerto in D major, Hob.XVIII:11 (1784) [19:33]
Concerto in G major, Hob.XVIII:4 (c.1770) [20:17]
Concerto in G major, Hob.XVIII:9 (1767?) [18:03]
Sebastian Knauer (piano)
Cologne Chamber Orchestra/Helmut Müller-Brühl.
rec. 15-18 February 2007, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Cologne, Germany. DDD
NAXOS 8.570485 [77:59]
Experience Classicsonline


These are honest, unfussy performances, recorded in clear and well-integrated sound. Neither the Cologne Chamber Orchestra nor the soloist Sebastian Knauer employ period instruments, but their performances have a sense of proportion and a refinement that lend their own air of authenticity. Those who have heard the Cologne Chamber Orchestra under Helmut Müller-Brühl in various installments of Naxos' Haydn symphony cycle will expect this.
 
In the 37 year old German pianist Sebastian Knauer they find an ideal collaborator. He is a natural Haydn pianist and an intuitive musical conversationalist. Although he plays a modern piano on this recording, he is alive to the balances required in Haydn's music and creates dynamic contrast with shades of piano and pianissimo, caressing rather than banging his keys. His facility for nuance never draws attention to itself, colouring the score subtly instead. Knauer plays his own cadenzas in concertos nos. 3, 4 and 9 and in each case he captures the idiom beautifully.
 
The concerto in D major Hob.XVIII:11 – in which Knauer plays Paul Badura-Skoda's cadenzas – is the stand-out in this collection. It opens with a sprightly allegro first movement which spins a delightfully memorable tune, and closes with a glistening, spicy Hungarian rondo. The central slow movement, which is almost as long again as the first movement, has a wonderful singing quality. Knauer creates moments of delicate rhapsody here, breathing a gentle rubato and coaxing delicious pianissimi from his keys. This is mature Haydn: expressive, witty and infectious. It was a popular hit across Europe in its day, and it is easy to hear why.
 
The F major concerto Hob.XVIII:3 that precedes it on this disc is the work of a younger composer, but still bears its author's marks. Just listen to the way the piano takes up and embellishes the artlessly pretty theme that is the first subject of the relaxed opening allegro. A dreamy adagio and a bright, witty presto balance the long first movement, and throughout orchestra and soloist are in fine form.
 
The first of the two G major concertos, Hob.XVIII:4 opens with a similarly spacious allegro, but as in the F major concerto the gentle pace does not dull the music's impact. Instead it creates space for Knauer's thoughtful articulation and phrasing. The closing rondo is perky, but it is the slow movement that really impresses here, exuding a sighing wistfulness.
 
All four of the concertos on this disc have had questions asked about their authenticity. Keith Anderson's liner notes more or less confirm that nos. 3, 4 and 11 are genuine Haydn, though there seems to have been some retouching of the orchestration in nos. 3 and 4. As for no.9, which closes the disc, whether or not it is genuine Haydn it is certainly quite different from the three concertos that precede it. The scoring is much lighter and the outer movements are much shorter than the deeply meditative slow movement, which Knauer casts in beautiful legato phrases, delicately ornamented.
 
Haydn was no virtuoso, and his concertos for keyboard have no pretensions to the dazzle and grandeur of Mozart's works in the medium. He was, however, an expert musical dramatist and had a magpie's eye for sparkle. While Ronald Brautigam’s disc of nos. 3, 4 and 11 (together with 2) on BIS (CD 1318) crackle with greater excitement, these performances are unfailingly pleasing, making this just the sort of head-clearing, smile-inducing disc you will want to have close to hand at the end of a long day.
 
Tim Perry
 


 


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