HAYDN: The Complete Concertos – Soloists/ Cologne Chamber Orchestra/ Helmut Muller-Bruhl, conductor – Naxos 8.506019 (6 CDs), 7:12:48 *****:
Naxos has released several box sets arranged by category containing much of Haydn’s voluminous production in recognition of the bicentennial of his death in 1809. This 6 CD set contains his complete concertos. Unlike Mozart, Haydn was not a virtuoso performer. Nor did he possess Mozart’s genius for expressing drama in music, a necessity if one wishes to produce truly great concertos. Since they are essentially a dramatic presentation pitting a solo instrument against the massed instruments of an orchestra, Mozart’s operatic genius facilitated his brilliant dramatic expressiveness when writing for a solo instrument such as a piano or violin.
Haydn was not gifted with such talent and was forced to fall back upon his mastery of the syntax of the Classical era when composing his concertos. Thus his concertos have a generic quality, unlike his brilliant symphonic and chamber works which are the true repository of his creative genius. It is indicative of Haydn’s inherent modesty that when confronted with examples of Mozart’s phenomenal dramatic gifts, in either opera or the concerto, he deferred to his younger colleague and ceased any further efforts in that genre.
Most of Haydn’s concertos make for very pleasant listening, possessing all of the Rococo grace and Galant charm of the music of the 1750s and 1760s when many of them were written. His violin concertos, which are beautifully performed for this set, are redolent of the period. We picture paintings by Watteau and Boucher in our mind’s eye as we listen to these lovely confections. Haydn’s early keyboard concertos have a similar charm as we listen to the formative years of a great composer in the process of creating the depth and complexity of the brand new sonata form. The well known cello, horn, trumpet and pianoforte concertos are all given superb performances. The strangest concertos are those written for two lire organizzate, a kind-of giant hurdy-gurdy with organ pipes attached. The range of this instrument is similar to that of the oboe, flute and recorder and these instruments substitute for the now extinct lire organizzate. The Cologne Chamber Orchestra conducted by Helmut Muller-Bruhl is always an exemplar of concerto accompaniment.
From a strictly historical viewpoint this music – whatever its deficiencies – is always fascinating to listen to as we witness the artistic growth of a genius. Haydn’s talent may be in its primitive stage but his humanity always shines through and he is never at a loss when creating beautiful melodies or exhibiting his nascent musical wit and warmth. Naxos’ engineers have produced exemplary recordings with sonic depth and transparency while creating a pleasing spaciousness in the soundstage that provides a wonderful clarity to 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].
– – Mike Birman