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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Keyboard Concerto in D major, Hob. XVIII:II [18:08]
Keyboard Concerto in G major, Hob. XVIII:4 [20:21]
Keyboard Concerto in F major, Hob. XVIII:3 [22:40]
Keyboard Concerto in F major, Hob. XVIII:7 [13:15]
Viviane Chassot (accordion)
Kammerorchester Basel
rec. September 2016, Müllheim
SONY CLASSICAL 88985407452 [74:29]

Haydn keyboard concertos played on the accordion? Well, the accordion was first produced in 1821 and patented in 1829, so he would never have heard one, but if we are going to go authentic then he never heard a modern Steinway grand piano either, so the arguments can go on in this way ad nauseam. While admitting that Haydn’s approval can only every be speculation, Viviane Chassot writes that “I think that an open-minded composer like Haydn, who wrote for all manner of keyboard instruments, would have been curious about this tongue aerophone… Ultimately, it’s just another keyboard instrument with a technical addition in the form of its bellow, which introduces the element of breathing into the sound.”

Viviane Chassot has already performed Scarlatti, Rameau and Bach, and I last came across her playing on the Genuin label with zither player Martin Mallaun (review), which also transforms some older classics. The main question with the Haydn concertos is, does it work? My answer would be an emphatic ‘yes’. There are some caveats, but with sublimely stylish accompaniment from Kammerorchester Basel these are very nice performances indeed. The accordion floats over the strings very satisfyingly, its reedy projection not dissimilar to that of a French harmonium in terms of timbre, but with arguably greater expressive flexibility in terms of dynamics and phrasing. Rhythmic oomph is a potential issue when comparing accordion with piano, but sparkly movements such as the Rondo all’Ungherese that closes Hob. XVIII:II put paid to any negatives in this regard. No, it’s not a sound that attacks and decays in the same way as a piano, but dextrous bellow accents drive the impetus of the music as well as anything, and Chassot’s distinctly non-sticky articulation with the notes turn this into something with tremendous verve. Highlights other than general all-round brilliance include the way the accordion’s bass dips into the low orchestral notes in that lovely Largo cantabile at the heart of Hob. XVIII:3.

One thing you will have to get used to in these recordings is the cadenzas. Chassot expands on Haydn’s motiefs, “making them denser and striking out in the direction of stylistically more remote areas before finally recalling the folk-like melody and returning to it.” This “synthesis of Haydn’s music and the musical origins of the hand organ in folk music” results in some rather acute cornering in terms of idiomatic direction, and I wonder a little at the wisdom of this. I agree with Chassot in her aim to “delight the listener, very much in the spirit of Haydn’s remark that ‘What comes from the heart goes to the heart,’” but throwing in folksy funkiness to these cadenzas strikes me as the equivalent of introducing some Irish jigs if you happen to be playing them on a keyless wooden flute – possibly great fun, but not necessarily something the listener starts looking forward to when you know something like this might happen almost anywhere. Admittedly Chassot doesn’t always go completely bonkers, but when you hear the artful simplicity in the way she plays her short cadenza in the Adagio cantabile of Hob. XVIII:4, and the stunning examples in the Finale of this same concerto then it makes me think of how convincing she might equally have been without those syncopated excursions in Hob. XVIII:II.

This is the only small point of controversy I would bring up in an otherwise superbly recorded and performed programme of concertos. The balance between orchestra and accordion is nice, with a good blend of sonorities and the soloist suitably inhabiting the same perspective as the orchestra. There is also a nice stereo separation between bass and descant without delivering that surreal effect of a huge instrument emerging independently from left and right speakers.

The accordion has been achieving increasing prominence in recent years, with recordings by Mie Miki on the BIS label and others making us take this instrument ever more seriously as one of value in repertoire beyond and in addition to Tango and other folk music. Viviane Chassot’s brilliant musicianship can be taken as a significant contribution to this movement, and this collection of Haydn’s keyboard concertos as yet another place from which the accordion can expand its repertoire ever further.

Dominy Clements



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