Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Organ Concerto in C major Hob. XVIII:1 (1756) [18:58]
Concerto for Organ and Violin in F major Hob XVIII:6 (pre 1766) [18:27]*
Organ Concerto in D major Hob XVIII:2 (pre 1767) [25:14]
Ton Koopman (organ)
Catherine Manson (violin*)
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra
rec. September 2009, Lutherse Kerk, Haarlem,Netherlands.

Academic argument has long surrounded Haydn’s ‘Klavier’ concertos, with harpsichord and fortepiano being strong candidates as intended solo instruments, and the latter being the more likely to be heard, certainly with a greater frequency than the highly effective sounding organ which appears in these recordings. When I saw this release listed I wasn’t so much interested in the instrument as in the performer, having been a great fan of Ton Koopman’s playing in the concertos of Handel and others, though less so in his harpsichord recordings of the Bach Well-Tempered Clavier. These Haydn concertos have plenty of the bounce and liveliness which suits Koopman’s playing, though with less room for improvisatory ornamentation they have perhaps a little less of the character shown on the Handel recordings, also with the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and now available cheaply on Warner Apex. Knowing the pragmatic nature of 18th century composers and Haydn’s genial nature I’m sure he would have been no less than delighted with these radiant and transparently recorded performances.

Fans of Ton Koopman’s witty little passing phrases and flourishes can obtain their fill in the slow movements of these concertos, and the Largo of the Concerto in C major is a prime example, the organ chirping at times like a highly civilised virtuoso bird between the restrained chords in the strings. The arpeggios in the opening of the Adagio of the Concerto in D major are another joy to behold. The organ used here is a small-scale instrument – an ‘organ positive’ built by Marc Garnier. This has the effect of a confiding intimacy rather than providing the grand gestures of a full church or cathedral instrument. This organ can mix continuo-like with the strings, and easily if not overbearingly rise above them as the solo part takes control. This kind of close relationship between soloist and accompanying orchestra appreciates good sound equipment, and is a good deal less effective on a noisy car stereo as I discovered on giving the disc a cursory first spin on the motorway between Amsterdam and The Hague.

This programme nicely sandwiches the Concerto for Organ and Violin in F major, and there is a fascinating change in texture and a superb interaction between the organ the solo violin, played by Catherine Manson, who is leader of the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra. The pleasant and refined conversations which result are a highlight of this disc, and with the clear musical synergy between all concerned this is almost like a kind of aural voyeurism, peeking in at a private and rather specially cultural family feast. The ‘galant’ nature of this music means that deeply emotional regions are not plumbed, but with Haydn you always know things are going to go well and make you feel better for having ‘been there’. The clean playing of the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra has plenty of rhythmic drive and dynamic range, though will probably have critics of non-vibrato playing wrinkling their noses. In this case I find the non-vibrato strings fit rather well with the non-vibrato organ, so I have no complaints. There is admittedly little variety of colour from the orchestra, but I’m not sure how much of this we should be demanding or expecting in these pieces. The music certainly fizzes with energy in the faster movements, but don’t be deceived by the ‘Musicians on a Balcony’ illustration on the cover – there are no horns and drums in these concertos, or singers for that matter.

This release rises to the high expectations its pedigree promises. Fans of Joseph Haydn, Ton Koopman and top notch genuinely ‘classical’ music in general can do no wrong in adding it to their collections. With a catalogue certainly not drenched in choice when it comes to classy competition for organ concertos by Haydn this is a very welcome little CD indeed.

Dominy Clements

A very welcome release indeed.