HAYDN: Piano Concertos Nos. 3, 4, 9, 11 – Sebastian Knauer, piano/ Cologne Chamber Orchestra/ Helmut Muller-Bruhl – Naxos

by | Jun 23, 2008 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

HAYDN: Piano Concertos Nos. 3, 4, 9, 11 – Sebastian Knauer, piano/ Cologne Chamber Orchestra/ Helmut Muller-Bruhl – Naxos 8.570485, 77:59 ****:

The only piano concertos written in the Classical era that can withstand comparison to Mozart’s luminous creations are the four recorded on this Naxos CD. Haydn was not a keyboard virtuoso like Mozart, who composed his piano concertos intending to appear as soloist. Mozart spent his final decade in Vienna establishing his reputation as a performer, arranging his own subscription concerts as a free-lance musician. His performing skills are reflected in the bravura brilliance of his writing. Mozart’s concertos were often well beyond the abilities of even the gifted amateur. Haydn, on the other hand, was a competent keyboard performer, usually leading his orchestra from the harpsichord as they performed for Prince Esterhazy.

The first work recorded here, the Concerto No. 3 in F Major, was written around 1770. It is a joyful, spirited work whose Baroque roots are easily detected, as is the case with the Concerto No. 4 in G Major, written at about the same time. Both concertos were scored for two oboes, two horns and strings. The Concerto No. 11 in D Major is the best known, similarly scored as the previous two but it is the first keyboard concerto written specifically for the fortepiano.The increased dynamic range of this instrument is reflected in Haydn’s ambitious keyboard writing, now more articulate with greater emotional resonance and range. This radiant concerto was composed in 1784, and enjoyed wide popularity almost immediately. The authenticity of the Concerto No. 9 in G Major has been doubted because no original sources survive. It was listed in the Breitkopf catalogue of 1767 and has the flavor of Haydn’s good-natured assertiveness. Whatever its provenance, it is a thoroughly enjoyable concerto.

Pianist Sebastian Knauer made his concerto debut at the age of thirteen, performing the Haydn Piano Concerto No. 11 in D Major. This music is in his blood. He performs it with stylish aplomb, articulating each melodic line with clarity and effortless skill. These are some of the finest performances of this music I’ve heard. However, Emanuel Ax on his recording of Haydn Piano Concertos for Sony has a slightly more cohesive vision of these works. His playing radiates greater self-possession, with a limpid technique in the service of an even loftier beauty of tone. Knauer is no slouch, though. He plays beautifully. Helmut Muller-Bruhl conducts the superb Cologne Chamber Orchestra, who play this music in an historically informed style but on modern instruments. They are always graceful and invigorating, providing a delightful accompaniment, heightening our pleasure in these shining examples of the stile galant. Naxos’ recorded sound is clear and bright, with that emphasis on the mid-range their engineers seem to favor. The piano is nicely centered, seeming to float slightly above the orchestra on my system, which made for very pleasurable listening.

— Mike Birman


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