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CD Review

Franz Joseph Haydn

Concertos for Piano

  • Piano Concerto in F Major, Hob XVIII: 3 (1771)
  • Piano Concerto in G Major, Hob XVIII: 4 (1781)
  • Piano Concerto in G Major, Hob XVIII: 9 (1767)
  • Piano Concerto in D Major, Hob XVIII:11 (1784)
Sebastian Knauer, piano
Cologne Chamber Orchestra/Helmet Müller-Brühl
Naxos 8.570485
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The Haydn Fourth Piano Concerto, in D (Hob. 18:11), is by far the most popular work here, having drawn recordings from such iconic figures as Argerich, Ax, Brendel, Kissin, Michelangeli, Pletnev and many other notables. The Third Concerto, in F (Hob. 18: 3), and the Ninth, in G Major, have also enjoyed reasonable popularity, with recordings from the likes of Andsnes, Ax and others, but each, I think, is just as worthwhile as the Fourth. And #11, in G (Hob. 18:9) is also not to be overlooked. This whole disc then, all 77:59 of it, is filled with delightful music. Listening to it, you may wonder why Haydn is generally ranked below Mozart in the realm of the keyboard concerto.

The answer, I think, lies in the description I just provided above: Haydn's music is always delightful, where Mozart's is often a mixture of the delightful and profound. Right off, one thinks of the Mozart 20th Concerto, with its dark opening movement. But Mozart also could float those memorable lyrical melodies, as in the second movement of #21, the famous "Elvira Madigan" theme. And Mozart's, especially the later concertos, are more ambitious formally. Yet Haydn's wares hardly pale alongside Mozart's: the second movement of the Third has a mesmerizing beauty, not unlike that of the "Elvira Madigan", and the corresponding panel of the Ninth is also quite lovely. In fact, virtually every movement in these four concertos features catchy themes and solid keyboard writing. Hearing this disc, the average listener might further wonder why Haydn's keyboard concertos aren't more popular.

And they'll especially wonder after hearing these splendid performances by Sebastian Knauer (b. 1971), who has Haydn in his fingers, with delicacy and subtlety and wit and nuance and all manner of intelligence in his playing. Ironically, he has played and conducted from the keyboard all 27 Mozart piano concertos in concert, and is in demand throughout Europe and the Americas. On the basis of this disc, I'd say you'll be hearing more from him. The Cologne Chamber Orchestra, under the incisive Helmet Müller-Brühl, turns in spirited performances to round out this generously filled disc. The sound is vivid. Highly recommended!

Copyright © 2008 by Robert Cummings