Brahms: Keyboard Concertos
The keyboard concerto wasn’t of central importance to Haydn, as it was to Mozart: Haydn was himself no virtuoso pianist, and his surviving concertos are all early works. Nevertheless, the three recorded here (several others of dubious authenticity made their way into the catalogue of the composer’s works) are attractive enough, and the D major Concerto with its Hungarian-style finale has deservedly become popular. Pianist Marc-André Hamelin and Les Violons du Roy play that gipsy rondo with irresistible verve, adding a local dash of colour by means of some double-bass slapping with the wood of the bow. The finale of the G major Concerto is a dazzling piece, too, featuring a couple of octave-glissandos that would have been a good deal easier to bring off on a piano of Haydn’s day, with its shallower keys and lighter action, than they are on the Steinway concert grand Hamelin uses.
If there’s an incongruity between the sound of Hamelin’s modern piano and that of the period-band that accompanies him, it’s one that’s easy to get used to. Much more jarring are the cadenzas. In the case of the D major Concerto, Haydn’s own cadenzas have survived, but they’re undeniably undistinguished, and Hamelin plays instead two curiosities by the harpsichordist Wanda Landowska – a rather banal piece of writing in the case of the first movement, and for the slow movement an Impressionistic wash that seems to belongs to another era altogether. For stylistically more coherent performances, Emanuel Ax and the Franz Liszt Orchestra are a prime recommendation, but it’s hard not to enjoy Hamelin’s showmanship and the eloquence of his slow movements is an added bonus.