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Mark Sealey
Classical Net, September 2009

Most would agree that Haydn’s symphonies, trios and piano/keyboard sonatas seem to contain an almost inexhaustible stream of imagination. The concerti, while being wonderfully varied and inspiring compositions, do not have the same depths and breadth. Nevertheless, not only are such pieces as the trumpet concerto in E Flat Major (Hob.VIIe:1), D Major cello concerto (Hob.VIIb:2) and piano concerti (Hob.XVIII:3, 4, 9, 11) both well known and regulars in the concert and recording repertoire. But they also contain much great music. These prominent examples also make good introductions to the other works of the composer in their respective genres. This very pleasing collection from Naxos contains two dozen concerti by Haydn on six CDs…If this corner of Haydn’s repertoire is unfamiliar to you or if you want much better than "satisfactory" accounts of the concerti gathered together, this is certainly the set to get.

That Haydn wrote as many concerti as he did attests to the significant variety in this corner of his output. The challenge for conductor Helmut Müller-Brühl was to expose such variety. Each concerto needs to be given its due in its own right. Of course having over a dozen different soloists (albeit playing different instruments) with the one orchestra, the Cologne Chamber Orchestra, helps in that respect. The project has also succeeded by nevertheless presenting enough of a unified vision of the concerti as melodious, inventive, confident and at times adventurous compositions on the one hand; yet as works indicative of the composer’s determination to be individualistic, non-conformist, surprising, even, on the other.

Two decisions will have been made in the production of this set: which concerti to include and which to exclude in accordance with current scholarship; and whether or not to use period instruments… the Oboe Concerto (Hob.VIIg:C1) and the Horn Concerto No 2 (Hob.VIId:4) are both missing from this set. While the D major Cello Concerto (Hob.VIIb:2) is included. And, although modern instruments are played, period practices have been observed. After listening to the set right through, that is likely to be considered a satisfactory state of affairs.

A common characteristic of other performances of the Haydn concerti is to overlay them with an ebullience, a brashness, almost, which they do not deserve. They are not nineteenth century showpieces. Such movements as the subtle and gentle slow movement of the C major violin concerto (Hob.VIIa:1 [CD.1 tr.2]) reveal immediately the extent to which Müller-Brühl has taken, if not the opposite approach—the renditions are still full of life—then a more sober and, quite honestly, a more respectful one. In place of bombast and volume are springy freshness, and thoughtful articulation of the melodic lines as the small orchestra supports and provides contrast with the soloists.

A set of this kind has the attributes of having grouped together all examples of the genre—in this case the concerto, of course. To that end, it ought to go some way towards identifying what is distinct about, in this case, Haydn’s approach to pitching soloist against orchestra. This Naxos collection is singularly successful in this regard. The playing of the Cologne Chamber Orchestra is unobtrusive and supportive enough for the timbre, pace and melodic development of each of the soloists to be clear and pleasing. Similarly, the playing reveals the musical characteristics of the horn, violin, flute, harpsichord, fortepiano, organ, oboe, cello, recorder, trumpet and piano themselves as Haydn wrote for them. At the same time the consistency of balance achieved by Müller-Brühl stimulates us to consider how Haydn envisaged each instrument in an orchestral context. We know he tended to write for the virtuosi at his disposal. But at this distance in time we also want to celebrate the blend of soloist and wider canvas regardless of who shone as player(s) of their instrument in the eighteenth century.

This exploration of soloist, orchestra and collaboration between the two is nowhere better exemplified than in the gorgeous fourth CD which contains the four keyboard concerti, here played on the piano by Sebastian Knauer. To call them revelations is no exaggeration. Not only is each theme developed without show; yet with great style. But individual movements are also presented in such a way that we marvel at how Haydn contrasts with his contemporaries. Those who might advocate Haydn over Mozart and Beethoven would claim that the Rondo and Presto movements of the first G major (Hob.XVIII:4) [CD.4 tr.9], for example, "run rings around" anything Mozart achieved. Less dramatically, they would point to a sweetness and yet a density of invention, on which this performance demonstrates beyond any doubt, Mozart did not have a monopoly. And they would invite very favorable comparison between the Adagio of the second G major piano concerto [CD.4 tr.11] and an equivalent by Beethoven. The danger is that such a contrast brings us up short, and risks hampering our appreciating the music on its own terms. Not here. In the unemphatic hands of Knauer we do indeed have those qualities of the music exposed for us that make it so remarkable, so full of impact and of delight. At the same time it’s played as if that is all to be expected. This is Haydn. This is how he wrote. A happy balance indeed.

Nor does the playing of these, or any of the other, concerti leave us disappointed. Haydn’s level of creative impetus was rarely so high as in the symphonies, string quartets, choral works and probably sonatas. But the concerti are played for what they are. That’s a good thing. Helmut Müller-Brühl has approached the less familiar with the same earnestness and confidence as he has, say, the more familiar Trumpet Concerto and D major Cello concerto (no. 2). In a way these make bridges for our appreciation of the three violin concerti, which are superbly played by Augustin Hadelich. They make good foils for the endlessly fascinating Double Concerto for violin and fortepiano, which may nevertheless be a discovery for some. The performance balances excitement with intimacy in a way that will linger long after the final note has died away. Then, of course, there are the concerti for lire organizzate on the sixth CD. Without doubt sui generis, the way they have been approached in this set never confers upon them mere curiosity value. Unaccustomed as most players these days will be with such a sound world, the players still enter into their spirit, live up to their technical challenges and produce music that is convincing and enjoyable, if bounded by limitations of which, one suspects, Haydn would not have been unaware.

The weakest of the CDs are the fifth and sixth. The organ and harpsichord concerti (Hob.XVIII:1, 5, 7, 8, 10) lack the invention and depth of the other works in the form by Haydn. There is—at times—a certain predictability and reliance on formula. Soloists and ensemble nevertheless make the most of the works, infusing them with pep and nonchalance. These qualities lift the works as far above the mundane as they can reasonably be lifted. On CD 6 we might have heard the five concerti for lire organizzate played that way: the instrument was a kind of hurdy-gurdy with a wheel (controlled by a crank) which both operated the strings and powered the bellows required for a small pipe organ that was attached to the instrument, which looked like a large guitar. As it is, Müller-Brühl has chosen to employ wind instruments: two recorders (for HobVIIh:1 and 5), flute and oboe (for HobVIIh:2 and 4) and two flutes (for HobVIIh:3). There can be no denying that these make less of an impact. Indeed, at times the balance between orchestra and flute results in the latter coming off very much the worse for wear—barely a concerto presence at all. The oboe fares better. But the sense of contrast and presence which the solo instruments ought to have had has been lost. Still useful to have these performances. And, at Naxos’ prices, the playing of the other four CDs still makes the set a worthy bargain.

… The set’s presentation—each CD comes in its own cardboard sleeve—and acoustic supplement the superb playing, which does Haydn proud. If you are looking for a collection of the less familiar, yet the substantial and stimulating, orchestral works of Haydn, and demand the best from the soloists supported by a sensitive and versatile orchestra with no discernible unevenness in playing that’s also interpretatively strong, Naxos has provided it. Recommended.




Mike Birman
Audiophile Audition, August 2009

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 [See Naxos Boxed Sets – Ed]. This 6 CD set contains his complete concertos…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 Müller-Brühl 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.



Ivan March
Gramophone, July 2009

Enjoyable and economical: all Haydn’s concertos in a handy slimline box

Among the many new recordings and reissues planned to celebrate the tercentenary of one of our very greatest composers, this Naxos box, containing just the authenticated concertos, already stands out. All are new recordings, underpinned by warmly stylish accompaniments by the Cologne Chamber Orchestra, spiritedly and sensitively directed by Helmut Müller-Bruhl. If the Trumpet Concerto (still the finest for this instrument, and brilliantly played here) stands out, the splendid D major Cello Concerto, HobXVIJb/2, is also superbly presented by Naxos’s star cellist Maria Kliegel, who then goes on to give a ravishing account of the Adagio of the early C major Concerto (only discovered in 1961). Of the piano concertos, only the justly popular D major, with its catchy opening theme, could readily be placed alongside those of Mozart, especially in this sensitive performance by Sebastian Knauer. But listen to his engaging fluency in the opening movement of the F major, and the delicacy of his account of the following Largo cantabile which is then matched by the memorable Adagios of both the G major and D major works. Lovely playing indeed.

The organ (with no pedals required) and harpsichord concertos are virtually interchangeable, with sparkling allegros, the Baroque scoring brightened by horns or trumpets, framing simple, expressive slow movements. These pieces are very communicative when the performances are so alive. The Horn Concerto is florid, and demands and receives easy virtuosity, especially in the slow movement, which soars up demandingly high.

The three violin concertos are not great music either, although Augustin Hadelich plays them spontaneously with much finesse, and he phrases the Adagio of the C major exquisitely, so that this work stands out among its companions. However, the delicate little Double Concerto for violin and harpsichord is a surprise. It is most winning. Perfectly balanced, the interplay between the two instruments tweaks the ear engagingly, especially in the slow movement.

Finally, and also unexpectedly, the transcribed works originally for a pair of lire organizzate are most inventively sprightly and pleasing. They were commissioned by the King of Naples to be played in duet with his teacher on a curious hybrid combination of hurdy-gurdy and organ. This instrument is now obsolete, but the transcriptions for varying woodwind instruments in pairs are most effective (as Haydn intended), and the music is by no means trivial. Altogether this is a most rewarding compilation with performances and recording of the highest quality. I have enjoyed every item, and with a handsome accompanying booklet the set is offered in a most presentable box. An inexpensive treat!



Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, May 2009

The program notes for this fine collection state almost apologetically that Haydn is ’not primarily known for his concertos’. I beg to differ, having loved these very diverse works ever since being able to collect them, scattered as they were. So kudos to Naxos for gathering these lovely creations under one roof. Like the complete string quartets, the works are all performed by one ensemble—the excellent Cologne Chamber Orchestra and its veteran conductor Helmut Mühler-Brühl, with an imaginative combination of soloists in the lire organizzate concerti written for the king of Naples. Especially enjoyable are the diverse keyboard concertos.



Simon Thompson
MusicWeb International, April 2009

This jolly set from Naxos unites for the first time, I believe, all of Haydn’s surviving concertos. While the level of inspiration here isn’t as consistently high as it is in the symphonies, string quartets or choral works, there’s still plenty to enjoy and the performances show these works to the best advantage.

Listeners can be assured at the outset that the old favourites are in safe hands here. The Trumpet Concerto positively gleams in the hands of Jürgen Schuster whose lightly virtuosic playing contrasts well with the martial work of the orchestra. Likewise, the D major Cello concerto (no. 2) is graceful and refined under the bow of Maria Kliegel, the gorgeous slow movement coming across with special beauty. Lest anyone think that Haydn was only capable of conveying one emotion in his concerto writing, Kliegel then throws herself into the swinging rondo finale of No. 4. She shows us a much more vigorous side to Haydn in the C major concerto, while being just as seductive in its slow movement.

The three violin concertos are superbly played here, and each has something special to recommend it, be it the total stillness of the orchestra in the slow movement of No. 1, the contre-danse refinement of No. 2 or the busy working out of No. 3. The horn concerto No. 1 is perhaps a little less substantial and more forgettable, but it has a lovely slow movement which ranges most effectively over the horn’s full range. The stand-out work of the first three discs, however, is the Double Concerto for violin and fortepiano. This, Haydn’s only work in this form, is a real delight, an intimate, chamber-like piece which touches on what domestic music-making must have been like in the Esterhaza palace. Furthermore, it was in this work that I first noticed the orchestra’s lack of vibrato. That, combined with the use of the fortepiano, made this a much more “period”-sounding work.

The piano concertos on disc four are more familiar fare and all sound absolutely splendid here. The D major, in particular, has an especially exciting feel to the outer movements, while the F major has a profoundly beautiful slow movement. It is especially good to have these keyboard works played on a piano rather than a harpsichord. True, Haydn is no Mozart when it comes to writing concertos, but this disc alone would be enough to convince anyone that he is capable of strokes of genius. Just listen to the profound minor key slow movement of the G major concerto (Hob 9) to get a sense of that. The keyboard concertos that are played by harpsichord and organ I found less convincing. I’ve never been the harpsichord’s biggest fan, and I heard nothing here to change my mind. Especially in concertos, the instrument sounds too spindly and is easily subsumed into the orchestral picture. The same problem is there with the organ concertos, where there is insufficient contrast between soloist and orchestra, with too much blend in the slow movements in particular. Still, those with different tastes to me may find them charming.

The most curious disc is the last, featuring Haydn’s surviving concertos for pairs of lire organizzante. This instrument seems to have been close to the hurdy-gurdy and the concertos were commissioned by King Ferdinand IV of Naples, who played the instrument with his teacher. Pairs of wind instruments take the lire organizzante’s role here, and it’s a bit of a shame that we couldn’t have had at least one play-through with the genuine article, if one still exists. Still, the flutes, oboes and recorders fill in nicely and the concertos on this disc sound notably different to the rest of the set. These works are more like divertimenti and there is, again, a tendency for the instruments to blend into the orchestral sound. Here, however, Haydn gets over this by incorporating them from the very start of the music: no exposition repeat with the soloist elaborating on what has gone before. I found these works curious but attractive, especially the busy No. 5 and No. 1 which has a poignant, almost operatic adagio inserted into its fast finale, a lovely touch.

Every soloist is top-notch here, but the main stars are the Cologne Chamber Orchestra who have the full measure of this varied set of music. They play with martial swagger when required, as in the trumpet concerto, but refine themselves down to almost one-to-a-part when necessary, as in the Double Concerto. They play on modern instruments but with many period inflections, directed ably by Helmut Müller-Brühl, a specialist in this field.

Naxos are really spoiling us with the Haydn anniversary. This is a great set, worthy to set alongside their surveys of the symphonies, piano sonatas and string quartets. Anyone curious about this area of Haydn’s work can invest with confidence.



Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, March 2009

SOME THOUGHTS ON THE COMPLETE HAYDN: ALL THE SONATAS, STRING QUARTETS, SYMPHONIES AND CONCERTOS.

It's been quite a journey so far, and looking back on the countless hours of pleasure that this vast undertaking has yielded, truly the experience of a lifetime. There are manifold delights this collection has afforded me.

8.501042 THE COMPLETE PIANO SONATAS (10 CDs)

The consistent uniformity of Jenő Jandó’s pianism is a marvel: there is never a moment of  less than superb musicianship throughout his traversal. Having enjoyed his performances of all the Mozart concertos as well, I'm tempted to join him on an all-Beethoven Sonatas adventure. I felt much the same way about the compelling Kodaly Quartet's collection of 25 CDs: they never falter, their enthusiasm and perfect intonation are truly a wonder.

8.503400 THE COMPLETE SYMPHONIES (34 CDs)

With the symphonies, it is a bit of a mixed bag. There is no getting away from the fact that several, especially the early ones, are hastily cobbled together and do not reflect much inspiration. However, even weak tea can be made more palatable with an enthusiastic and imaginative execution.  My favourite among the half-dozen ensembles  sharing this enterprise are the Toronto Chamber Orchestra ledby Kevin Mallon, with Helmut Mueller Bruehl's Cologne Chamber Orchestra a close second. Yet none of the others—even where drawn from Naxos earlier releases—is less than adequate, and all benefit from superb reproduction. I am now looking forward to the 6 CD concerto collection, due in April.



John Sheppard
MusicWeb International, March 2009

It may seem surprising to say that it is brave claim that this set includes Haydn’s complete Concertos. However, over the years, many other works have been attributed to him that are now thought to be spurious and are not included here. At the same time, others have been added to the list. Thus the Oboe Concerto Hob.VIIg: C1 and the Concerto No 2 for Horn Hob.VIId: 4—both works that have had several recordings—are excluded. Conversely, one of the best known works that is included here—the D major Cello Concerto Hob.VIIb: 2—was for many years thought likely to be spurious until evidence in the form of an original manuscript emerged in 1953. One undoubtedly genuine work you will look for in vain is the Sinfonia Concertante in Bb Hob.I.105 for violin, cello, oboe, bassoon and orchestra. Naxos have recorded it with this same orchestra but have very properly included it with their set of the complete Symphonies as No 105 [8.503400]. One can only wonder whether in a hundred years a collection of “The Complete Concertos” would be the same as or even similar to what we have here.

Haydn wrote Symphonies from the 1750s to the 1790s in sufficient numbers for a clear line of development to be followed. Most of the surviving concertos, in contrast, were mainly written in the earlier part of his career, and whilst they are unfailingly pleasant to hear few, including above all the superb C major Cello Concerto Hob.VIIb:1, can be counted as more than minor in relation to Haydn’s output as a whole. It is the later Concertos that include the few undoubted masterpieces here—the D major Cello Concerto Hob.VIIb:2 of 1783, the D major Piano Concerto Hob.VIII:11 of 1784 and the Trumpet Concerto of 1796. The latter is indeed one of Haydn’s greatest as well as most popular works, wholly different in style as well as quality from what had gone before.

The final disc contains the five surviving Concertos from what was probably a set of six commissioned by King Ferdinand IV of Naples for a pair of lire organizzate. These were a form of hurdy-gurdy with added organ pipes. Haydn kept copies of them for his own use in Esterháza, transferring the solo parts for other wind instruments, and that is what is done on these discs. Like the later set of Nocturnes written for lire organizzate these pieces are all well worth hearing, being fresh, brief and effective.

Although a battery of soloists are involved, only one orchestra is used, unlike the Naxos set of the complete Symphonies which is divided among several. The Cologne Chamber Orchestra did for a time use period instruments, but they were re-established in 1987 using modern instruments but apparently influenced by period practice. I must be honest and say that the result does not sound different in kind from the sort of performance given by modern instrument chamber orchestras as long ago as the 1960s, let alone more recently. This is however a description of the performances, not a criticism of them, and overall the orchestra is alert and sympathetic to both the music and to the various soloists. If at times there seems to be a hint of all purpose brightness in the playing of the earlier Concertos, that is perhaps little more than a reflection of the character of the music itself. On the whole their contribution is never less than worthy and often much more than that.

The same applies to the soloists, although here the peaks are more frequent. I particularly enjoyed Jürgen Schuster’s performance of the Trumpet Concerto—well phrased, avoiding too brassy a sound, and managing the high tessitura without any apparent difficulty. The tessitura of the Cello Concertos is also high, especially in Hob.VIIb:2, but Maria Kliegel copes with it admirably. An occasional tendency to heaviness in the lower register may be a fault of the recording. The various keyboard players manage their various assignments well, and a tendency towards monotony probably will be noticed only by reviewers listening to whole discs at a time. Others would be better advised to mix works from the different discs, thus emphasizing their variety rather than their similarity. One tendency common to most of the soloists is of cadenzas which are excessively long for such brief and economical works. This is however a problem also found on most rival recordings and is not a serious defect.

The set is greatly enhanced by its presentation in cardboard sleeves in a box with a very lengthy booklet covering all of the Naxos complete Haydn boxes. The others contain the Symphonies [8.503400], the Quartets [8.502400] and the Piano Sonatas [8.501042]. The notes by Jeremy Siepmann are full and helpful, although you may find yourself also reading those relating to the other types of work. That will certainly give you a greater understanding of Haydn’s genius and probably encourage you to listen to the works described.



Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, January 2009

HAYDN, J.: Concertos (Complete) (Cologne Chamber Orchestra, Muller-Bruhl) (6 CD Box set) 8.506019
HAYDN, J.: Piano Sonatas (Complete) (Jando) (10 CD Box set) 8.501042
HAYDN, J.: String Quartets (Complete) (Kodaly Quartet) (25 CD Box set) 8.502400
HAYDN, J.: Symphonies (Complete) (34 CD Box set) 8.503400

Continuing to luxuriate in all the sonatas, string quartets and symphonies, I had to resist the temptation to cherry-pick favourites. Instead, alternating between the three genres gives one a much better grasp of this great musical genius’ methodology. One gets to hear the organic growth and development of forms that have become the foundation of all music that followed.

I’ve been a Haydn lover since early childhood, yet listening to this treasure-trove makes me realise how little I really know! So when a familiar piece comes along, it brings a smile of recognition. Given the biographical facts of Haydn’s employment and career also helps put matters in perspective, for yes, there are some works that reveal haste (or lack of inspiration, if you will), but these are few and far between. The man’s craftsmanship and professionalism cover such lapses, as do the superb performances by the various performers, aided by the excellent overall all-digital recordings. For even more variety, I’m looking forward to the complete concertos, due for release in February 2009.






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