The Staier-Haydn concertos on the pianoforte combine austerity and vitality in an infectious mix.

HAYDN: Piano Concerto in G Major, Hob. XVIII: 4; Concerto for Piano, Violin and Strings in F Major, Hob. XVIII: 6; Piano Concerto in D Major, Hob. XVIII: 11 – Andreas Staier, pianoforte/ Freiburger Borockorchester/ Gottfreid von der Goltz – Harmonia mundi HMG 501854, 64:20  (1/11/05) [Distr. PIAS] ****:

Andreas Staier originally recorded these Haydn concertos in 2004, performing on a 1986 reconstruction of a Walter pianoforte of 1785. The program begins with the galant 1770 Concerto in G Major, an “outdoor” piece meant to appeal to the sophisticated audience who frequented the establishment of Prince Esterhazy. The first movement Allegro abounds in rapid double notes and runs for the keyboard, which in the guise of pianoforte realization, maintains a lucid but brittle quality. The cadenza becomes quite animated, altering figuration, dynamics, and textures quite freely, in the spirit of a fantasia-improvisation. A liquid trill brings the string tutti back, strutting and dancing to a tender resolution. The second movement Adagio enters into some chromatically-arresting modulations that involve various turns and ornaments. Staier’s dry tone may not suit all tastes, especially those who prefer a modern instrument.  This movement’s ornamental cadenza at moments points to the more fiery style of a young upstart at the time, Ludwig van Beethoven. The Finale: Rondo-Presto possesses the ripe vitality and galloping wit that make Haydn immediately accessible. Alternating suspensions at cadences with gruff and militant figures, the music exploits sudden bursts of dynamics that we might ascribe to Hummel and later, Chopin. The cadenza freely plays with our expectations, with false cadences and a stile brise that alternates with rounded arpeggiated passages. Delightful fun, this concerto.

The Double Concerto in F Major (c. 1755) seems to have been conceived as an “occasional piece,” for sister-in-law Therese Keller’s entry into the Viennese convent of St. Nicholas as a novice. Director Gottfried von der Goltz does the violin honors in tandem with Staier’s florid keyboard part. The plastic writing in its faster passages exerts an animated lyricism we have become used to via the virtuoso double-concertos of Vivaldi. The staid opening of the Largo movement argues for the contention that Haydn conceived this work as an organ concerto. The violin plays over a plucked bass line, while the keyboard adds runs and broken passagework that soon blends with the violin’s curlicues. The keyboard and violin then alternate in working with the string support, or the piano assumes more of an obbligato role as a continuo. The cadenza pits scalar passages in each instrument in unison or in contrary motion. The Presto sachets with busy aplomb, confident and sprightly.

The ever-popular Concerto in D Major of 1780 enjoys just the right textural balance in the pianoforte version: a healthy, spirited, and deft cross between harpsichord and modern piano sonority. The Un poco adagio second movement achieves a sweet cantabile, while the outer movements – especially the rambunctious Rondo all’Ungarese – frolic in happy ensemble and pert accents from the Freibuger Barockorchester. The entire concerto passed so quickly before me, and with such deft aplomb, I felt compelled to hear it again.

—Gary Lemco