HAYDN: Piano Concertos No. 3 in F, No. 4 in G, No. 11 in D – Marc-André Hamelin, p./ Les Violons du Roy/ Bernard Labadie – Hyperion

by | Jun 15, 2013 | Classical CD Reviews

HAYDN: Piano Concertos No. 3 in F, No. 4 in G, No. 11 in D – Marc-André Hamelin, p./ Les Violons du Roy/ Bernard Labadie – Hyperion CDA67925, 61:44 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Haydn, by the 1770s, was a real rock star all over Europe. People could not get enough of his music, and so according to the morals of the age, publishers and those wishing to make a fast buck were all too ready to paste his name on just about any music out there. This was nothing new or unknown even back then; one music magazine editor wrote in 1784 “one is now rather skeptical if everything published in his name is really Haydn’s.” Of the ten or so concertos for keyboard (harpsichord, fortepiano, organ) listed as by Haydn, all scholars are nearly unanimous in proclaiming only the three on this recording as definitively by the composer. Haydn’s concertos are not on the same level as Mozart’s, just as the reverse holds true for the piano sonatas. Mozart was a performer, in some cases virtuoso on several instruments. Haydn, by his own admission, was not truly proficient on anything, though his keyboard skills were most likely far greater than he would admit. But the concerto as a genre would not contain the specific strengths of Haydn’s muse, with his intense developmental arguments and Beethoven-like conciseness in thematic illustration, so the symphony would be the vehicle that would carry his large scale statements.

These concertos were written for harpsichord but could have been played on piano and sound wonderful on the modern instrument. Each is rather old-fashioned in approach, especially when compared with the Sturm und Drang symphonies Haydn was creating at the time. Nevertheless there is an elegance, intensely melodic element, and gallant spirit to the pieces that make them exceptionally worthy of modern audiences. The D-major in particular has a following, one of the best concertos of the era, and exceptionally entertaining.

Hamelin, like in everything he touches, has an intuitive sense of how the pieces should go, and his clean, articulate, and beautifully phrased performances catapult him to the top of the class. There are other fine performances of all three pieces, notably Emmanuel Ax on RCA just for starters, but Hyperion’s fine sound, and Labadie’s excellent orchestra make this one hard to beat. Everyone should know these works—even Haydn fans often don’t—and this is the place to start.

—Steven Ritter