Friday, March 4, 2011

Haydn - Concertos Pour Piano - Staier, Goltz, Freiburger Barockorchester







This is one terrific disc. Haydn's piano concertos are all early-to-middle-period works, and they have gotten something of a bum rap on account of the fact that they are not by Mozart. This isn't entirely fair. All of them were composed prior to 1780 or thereabouts, whereas with a single exception (No. 9), all of Mozart's great concertos postdate 1782, so there's really very little point in even making the comparison. This may not be great Haydn, but it is invariably enjoyable, Andreas Staier entertaining Haydn, and that's saying a lot, particularly when the performances are as lively and stylish as these.

The earliest work here is the Concerto for Piano, Violin, and Strings in F, which most likely was originally written for organ as the keyboard instrument of choice. It's a charming piece in Haydn's 1760s style, with a first movement that spends a good bit of time in and around interesting minor keys, and a charming Largo featuring a pizzicato accompaniment to the main themes played by the soloists. First violinist Gottfried von der Goltz ably partners Andreas Staier in this piece, as both ornament their lines with improvisatory freedom and generally make a lovely sound. It's particularly nice to know that von der Goltz, despite his ensemble's aggressive "period-instrument" string tone, isn't afraid to make an attractive sound in his capacity as soloist!

The G major concerto has a very "gallant" opening movement, full of gracious curves and bows, as well as a typically vivacious and Haydnesque rondo finale. I like the fortepiano that Staier has chosen for these works: its tone is big enough to offset that of the larger ensemble, but it's also nicely in scale and clean in passagework (though without ever sounding like a keyboard xylophone). Haydn's most famous piano concerto, the one in D major, with its delightful Hungarian Rondo finale, closes the disc in a burst of high spirits. This easily is the finest performance of that finale on disc, with slashing attacks from the strings and a thrillingly turned-out "Gypsy" episode in the middle. Staier also offers a cadenza toward the end that's totally in character.

The sonics are excellent, very well-balanced between solo and orchestra and giving the strings a surprisingly big, rich tone for such a small group (13 players)--though for a studio recording there's an unusual amount of associated performance noises in quiet passages. It's not terribly distracting, but it's there all the same. This very enjoyable disc certainly should appeal to fans of Classical-Period music played by today's finest historical performance specialists.--David Hurwitz, 


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