Excellent Survey of Haydn's Concertos
Thomas Gleim | Gaithersburg, MD United States | 05/04/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The Haydn concertos don't enjoy the popularity of the composer's symphonies, quartets or choral works. Only the Trumpet Concerto, two of the Cello Concertos, the Horn Concerto and one or two of the Keyboard Concertos are widely known. Received wisdom holds that most of these pieces are ignored because they lack the true virtuosic solo writing that other composers achieved in their concertos, and that is certainly a true observation. But it's also too bad, because many of Papa's concertos contain much fine and enjoyable music, even if no one would mistake a Haydn piano concerto for one of Mozart's late Viennese masterpieces.
Naxos does us a great service with this release, bringing together mostly sparkling performances of all the concertos in one attractive, budget-priced box. Music historians haven't definitively determined which Haydn Concertos are authentic and which are spurious, so don't expect this selection to include exactly the same material as rival sets. For reference, here's what you get (where instruments named in the 's are those used in these performances):
Disc 1: 3 Violin Concertos, in D (Hob.VIIa:1), in A (Hob.VIIa:3), in G (Hob.VIIa:4);
Disc 2: Horn Concerto, in D (Hob.VIId:3); Keyboard [Harpsichord] Concerto, in D (Hob.XVIII:2); Violin and Keyboard [Fortepiano] Concerto, in F (Hob.XVIII:6); and Trumpet Concerto, in E Flat (Hob.VIIe:1);
Disc 3: 3 Cello Concertos, in D (Hob.VIIb:2); in D (Hob.VIIb:4); and in C (Hob.VIIb:1);
Disc 4: 4 Keyboard [Pianoforte] Concertos, in F (Hob.XVIII:3); in D (Hob.XVIII:11); in G (Hob.XVIII:4); and in G (Hob.XVIII:9);
Disc 5: 5 Keyboard Concertos, in C (Hob.XVIII:1) [Organ]; in C (Hob.XVIII:5) [Harpsichord]; in C (Hob.XVIII:8) [Organ]; in F (Hob.XVIII:7) [Harpsichord]; and in C (Hob.XVIII:10) [Organ];
Disc 6: 5 Lire Organizzate Concertos, in C (Hob.VIIh:1) [2 Recorders]; in G (Hob.VIIh:2) [Flute and Oboe]; in G (Hob.VIIh:3) [2 Flutes]; in F (Hob.VIIh:4) [Flute and Oboe]; and in F (Hob.VIIh:5) [2 Recorders].
This box has several things going in its favor, and the best is the outstanding performances by the Cologne Chamber Orchestra under Helmut Mueller-Bruehl. (Don't good or great concerto performances always begin on the podium?) The orchestra plays on modern instruments in "historically informed" style. I've admired many of Mueller-Bruehl's Naxos releases, and in the music of Haydn, this maestro really "gets it". He knows how to play the rhythmic spring of an outer movement and how to caress the tender melody of an adagio. And the work is very consistent over the whole set, with few passages lagging.
Naxos has employed several mostly young but very talented soloists. They range from "adequate" to "outstanding". Of course, a few of them who play only in one or two earlier, less demanding works don't get much opportunity to really shine.
The string concertos fare especially well in this release. Augustin Hadelich is the superb soloist in the violin concertos. These normally neglected works are little gems, full of rollicking high spirits and joyous feelings. I couldn't stop tapping my toes while listening, and if I weren't a stodgy middle-aged coot trying to maintain a little dignity, I would have stood up and danced. The young soloist plays with gusto, verve and refinement. He also composed the excellent cadenzas. (By the way, he performs on a quite beautiful Stradivari of 1683, "ex-Gingold".)
The three cello concertos also stand out, even against their very stiff competition. Two of these are known to be by Haydn, one of them is suspect. But all contain worthwhile and sometimes great music. I didn't expect these recordings to offer much, given the available readings by other top-tier cellists, but Starker pupil and Rostropovich protégé Maria Kliegel, playing a beautiful Stradivari cello of 1693 ("ex-Gendron"), delivers sterling, rhapsodic readings, while Mueller-Bruehl plumbs the depths of Haydn's scores. Factoring in the total performance, not just the solos, I found this disc just as likeable as the Rostropovich or du Pre recordings.
Lacking space to review each performance, let me say that all the performances are enjoyable. In some of them, the soloists don't play with the authority of the most seasoned veterans, but still offer much delight. I already owned multiple recordings of all these concertos, but I'm still very glad to have this box, and I think you'll enjoy it too.
The set is packaged in a sturdy box, along with a 310 page booklet documenting Naxos's recordings of the complete symphonies, concertos, string quartets and piano sonatas of Haydn. You get track listings, essays on the music, artist bios, etc. (in English). A true bargain at the asking price.
Exploring the Haydn Concertos on Naxos
Robin Friedman | Washington, D.C. United States | 10/30/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"For most music lovers, Haydn's concertos do not occupy a particularly high place in his large output. Most of the concertos are early works written for specific occasions rather than for broad, repeated performances. These early concertos generally lack the virtuosity and brilliance found in the concerto form. They tend to lack drama. With that said, there is no need to be discouraged from exploring this six-CD collection of Haydn's complete concertos available on the budget-priced Naxos label. Helmut Muller-Bruhl conducts the Cologne Chamber Orchestra on modern instruments together with a variety of soloists in these recordings. Most of his readings of the concertos are in a period-informed style. The set of concertos is part of a lengthy series of Haydn's complete works in several genres, including symphonies (many of which are performed by Muller-Bruhl and his orchestra), string quartets, piano sonatas, oratorios, and masses, that Naxos has released in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Haydn's death (1732 - 1809). I have been listening to many recordings of Haydn's music this year, including these concertos, as part of my personal celebration of Haydn. His music is indeed inexhaustible.
Haydn's music is always delightful and accessible, even when he is not at his best. This set offers the opportunity to explore both familiar and unfamiliar music and to hear how Haydn developed as a composer. The concertos begin with some of Haydn's earliest compositions from the 1750s, and, they conclude with a work of Haydn's greatest maturity following his two visits to London. In addition, these concertos include a small number of masterworks, including the trumpet concerto, two concertos for cello, and the D major piano concerto. There are also some fine, lesser-known works that may surprise. Finally, in addition to the able performance of Muller-Bruhl, this set features a number of outstanding soloists. It offers full CDs of cellist Maria Kliegel, known as "La Cellisima" to her many admirers, and of two rising performers, violinist Augustin Hadelich and pianist Sebastian Knauer.
Because each of the six CDs in this set are also available individually, I have been pleased to have the opportunity to review each disk in more detail than is available here. Thus, in what follows I will offer brief comments on each CD and refer the interested reader by link to the individual CD for additional comments.
The set includes two CDs of Haydn keyboard concertos. The first CD Haydn: Keyboard Concertos includes five early works that Haydn composed in the 1750s as a freelance composer before he secured positions with Count Morzin and then with Count Esterhazy. They are performed here on the organ and harpsichord. One of these works is an early C major concerto that was of great personal importance to Haydn. It was performed when a young woman, Theresa Keller, whom Haydn had hoped to marry, took vows and was accepted into a convent as a nun. The music, however, is festive and ceremonial. The second CD of Haydn keyboard concertos features Sebastian Knauer, a young German pianist. Haydn: Piano Concertos Nos. 3, 4, 9 & 11 This CD includes three works Haydn wrote for the Esterhazy's. But its major attraction is a sparkling performance of Haydn's D major concerto, Haydn's one masterpiece in the piano concerto form, which dates from 1783.
A further CD in the collection includes an additional early Haydn keyboard concerto, together with an early concertos for keyboard and violin, and an early and good horn concerto. Haydn: Trumpet Concerto; Horn Concerto No. 1; Double Concerto; Harpsichord Concerto But the major attraction of this CD is Haydn's trumpet concerto, frequently regarded as his masterpiece in the form. This is a late work dating from 1795 after Haydn had returned to Vienna from London and completed the composition of his 104 symphonies. It is well-performed by Jurgen Schuster.
Maria Kliegel gives passionate, romantically charged readings of Haydn's two authentic cello concertos, the large-scale, symphonic D major concerto of 1784 and an early concerto dating from the early 1760s. Haydn: Cello Concertos For me, these works are the high point of Haydn's concerto compositions. Kliegel also performs an early concerto in D major attributed to Haydn which has become a rarity on CD. Her performance is in a full-bodied style which may not appeal to those listeners seeking a period rendition. But I found it moving.
The young violinist Augustin Hadelich gives a fully idiomatic, radiant, and virtuosic performance of Haydn's two early violin concertos in C and A written in the 1760s for Luigi Tomasini, the concertmaster at Esterhazy. He also performs the G major concerto which is a lesser work. Haydn: Violin Concertos This is a rare CD in which the performer rather than the score takes center stage. Hadelich should have an extraordinary career ahead of him.
Finally, the sleeper in this set consists of a CD of five concertos for lira organizzate that Haydn composed in 1785-1786 under commission from the King Ferdinand IV of Naples. Haydn: Concertos for Two Lire Organizzate The lira organizzate was a peculiar instrument similar to a hurdy-gurdy that was performed by turning a crank. Haydn later transposed these works to be played by two wind instruments. They are performed here by two flutes, flute and oboe, and two recorders. These concertos are delightful and worthy of their composer. Listeners familiar with Haydn will recognize many themes in these works that he subsequently incorporated into his symphonies. These works are rarities that will reward attention.
In sum, this is a fine set for those listeners who want to expand their knowledge of Haydn.