Joseph HAYDN (1830-1915)
Complete Keyboard Concertos
Concerto in F Hob.XVIII:3 [20.09]
Concerto in G Hob.XVIII:4 [18.35]
Concerto in F Hob.XVIII:11 [18.09]
Concertino in C Hob.XVIII:10 [9.59]
Concerto in C Hob.XVIII:5 [10.20]
Concerto in C Hob.XVIII:8 [10.35]
Concerto in C Hob.XVIII:1 [17.11]
Concerto in D Hob.XVIII:2 [21.54]
Double Concerto in F Hob.XVIII:6 [16.35]
Mélodie Zhao (piano)
David Nebel (violin)
Camerata Schweiz/ Howard Griffiths
rec. 2020, Kirch auf der Egg, Zürich
CPO 555 400-2 [67.22 + 76.58]
Haydn’s keyboard concertos are not commonly heard in the concert hall, but neither should they be dismissed. There is gorgeous music in these works, especially as revealed in these admirable performances in very fine sound.
The keyboard concertos belong to the period between around 1756 and 1780, so they are to be considered as middle period. There are also issues of authenticity: concerto no. 9 (in G) is deemed spurious by Haydn scholars and omitted in the current recording. Some scholars have raised questions about others in the list – only 3,4, and 11 are agreed as certainly by Haydn. Nevertheless, so much is Haydnesque in the others that there are at least moral grounds to assume the authenticity of the others. And the music is so enjoyable that I am happy to leave the academic arguments to the scholars.
Two questions remain: the extent to which the collection can be described as ‘complete’ and the appropriateness of using the piano. My own acquaintance with the works has been through versions for organ and for harpsichord, and I feared the comparison when hearing them on the modern piano. Doubts were quickly set aside; these all sit well on the modern
piano, but the other versions merit exploration, including an admirable selection (2,7 and 8) on period instruments from Eisenstadt (the baroque organ in St. Martin’s Cathedral - not the Palace) by Martin Haselböck, (Orfeo C158 871 A) from 1987. Ton Koopman has recorded three of the concertos (1,2 and 6) for organ, with the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra (Challenge Classics CC72390) (2010), and has a 40-year-old harpsichord collection (Philips 4465422), labelled ‘Complete’, on 2 discs, containing 3,4,6 and 11, with various Divertimentos. For undisputed completeness, with piano, Massimo Palumbo includes the spurious No.9 and all the Divertimentos on 4 separate discs (Arts Music). But for most listeners, the new set will be complete enough, especially with performances of such quality.
Whatever the scholarly arguments, they can be put aside here, because these works are far from ephemeral, and deserve serious attention. No.11 is perhaps the most immediately attractive, and perhaps most familiar, but each of the works rewards attention, from beautifully poised and poetic slow movements to virtuoso finales. The Swiss-born Mélodie Zhao has the measure of the music, and is alert to the quicksilver changes but also the muscularity of Haydn’s writing. In one or two places, I thought the recording of the piano was a little too forward, but that nowhere distracted from the pleasure of the performances. Howard Griffiths and the Camerata Schweiz provide masterful, idiomatic and vigorous accompaniments. Notes on the music are, as usual from cpo, detailed and informative, though the biographies of the fine musicians are too gushing – at least for my taste – if very full.