Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Organ Concerto No. 1 in C major [23:08]
Organ Concerto No. 2 in D major [25:37]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani in G minor [21:32]
Georges Athanasiadès (organ)
Eurasia Sinfonietta/Jin Wang
rec. Neubaukirche, Würzburg, February 2009. DDD
TUDOR 7165 [70:35]

Despite its shortcomings - a slightly muddy sound and the absence of sleeve-notes in English - this is a very pleasant disc with an interesting mix of organ concertos.

Over a decade separate Haydn’s two concertos, but both provide fascinating insights into the musical influences on the composer. At the time of the first concerto, in 1757, Haydn was a young freelance, occasionally working at the Imperial court and attempting to secure aristocratic patronage. The first is an essentially late Baroque work, complete with contrapuntal lines and decorative figuring. But listen out, too, for the simpler ‘sensibility’ (Empfindsamkeit) style pioneered by C.P.E. Bach in Berlin, and for the nascent Classical lines in the central Largo (track 2). Haydn’s future mastery of orchestration is also evident, with some fine flourishes for woodwind in the opening Moderato (track 1).

By 1767 Haydn had secured the post of Kapellmeister for the Esterhàzys, and was well down the road of Classical form and harmony. This is strongly reflected in the second concerto with its restrained simplicity and sense of balance; not that the music is easy to play. Athanasiadès has his hands full for most of the 25 minutes of playing time. The Eurasia Sinfonietta under Jin Wang provide warm support, although lack of clarity in the recording makes the strings sound a little dull, and the organ seems pushed too far back.

The recording of Poulenc’s concerto for organ, strings and timpani is one of the best around. The sound quality is better here, and both soloist and orchestra work well to produce a concerto of real drama and edginess. The opening Andante (track 7) is darkly menacing - a mood which the ensuing Allegro giocoso (track 8) never entirely dispels. The more reflective moments are played tenderly and even wistfully, as if Poulenc was harking back to the earlier great school of French organ music and moving tentatively forward to his new-found religiosity. It is just a pity that the French- and German- only sleeve-notes do not allow English listeners to discover more about his haunting work.

John-Pierre Joyce