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Jeremy Nicholas
Classic FM, February 2012

Knauer’s earlier disc of Haydn concertos comes highly recommended. © 2012 Classic FM

James H. North
Fanfare, November 2008

Knauer is a superb technician, with smooth, even runs and pearly tone. © 2008 Fanfare Read complete review

Richard Wigmore
Gramophone, September 2008

Sparkling performances from the young German in Haydn, genuine or not

Such was Haydn’s international cachet by the 1770s that opportunistic publishers were only too happy to market other men’s works under his name. The G major concerto, “No 9”, is a probable case in point, though who actually composed it is still anyone’s guess. The first movement and minuet finale chatter and frolic to no great purpose. Far more memorable is the ruminative, expressively harmonised G minor Adagio, an essay in the empfindsamer Stil made famous by CPE Bach. Of Haydn’s three indubitably authentic concertos, neither the F major, No 3, nor the G major, No 4, both composed around 1767-70, matches the popular D major No 11 in piquancy and inventiveness. But their aria-like slow movements have a characteristic grave, candid sweetness, while the dashing rondos hint at the gypsy exoticisms of the D major’s famous Rondo all’ungarese.

The young German pianist Sebastian Knauer gives sprightly and sensitive accounts of all four concertos, dancing nimbly through Haydn’s long stretches of toccata-style passagework and spinning a pure, eloquent line in the slow movements. He also supplies his own apt, unpretentious cadenzas. The Cologne Chamber Orchestra play crisply and promptly, though with no special imagination in phrasing—I noticed this particularly in the D major’s rhapsodic Adagio, where the repeated-note bass-lines chug rather than glide…That said, there is still much to enjoy in Knauer’s sparkling performances, truthfully recorded and naturally balanced.

Mike Birman
Audiophile Audition, June 2008

Joyful, spirited Haydn that is beautifully played. 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.

Bryce Morrison
International Piano, May 2008

This outstanding disc of four of Haydn’s dozen or so keyboard concertos will surely prompt reappraisal. Sebastian Knauer, a young German pianist who has studied with many celebrated names, immediately gives the lie to the notion that Haydn’s lack of prowess as a performer made him an unsuitable composer of concertos. On the contrary his concertos brim over with wit and virtuosity and, in the slow movements, with an inner grace and warmth peculiar to Haydn. Such attributes make ‘Papa Haydn’—an outwardly endearing sobriquet, more patron is-ing than relevant—and the waspish estimate by a contemporary pianist of a composer ‘who dines with the aristocrats when he should be with the servants’ seem notably wide of the mark. For here is all of Haydn’s delightful tendency to set up rudimentary conventions before whirling off course in the most surprising directions. The popular D major Concerto’s finale is a glory of tumbling gaiety, while the central Adagio cantabile from no.4 has ideas gracefully and piquantly ornamented with many suggestions of Romanticism to come.

In Knauer such music has an ideal interpreter. He spins the cantilena in the Third Concerto’s central Largo with rare sensitivity and even when compared with the likes of Ax and Argerich in the D major Concerto’s ‘Hungarian’ rondo finale he comes up trumps. In the same Concerto’s richly decorated Un poco adagio he achieves exactly the right touch of gravity and is memorably fluent and dextrous in the cascading scales ofthe Fourth Concerto’s opening Allegro.

Everything, exceptionally partnered by Helmut Muller-Bruhl, is kept on the qui vive and I can scarcely wait to hear more Haydn from this source. Naxos’s balance and sound are as exem­plary as the performances.

Tim Perry
MusicWeb International, May 2008

These are honest, unfussy performances, recorded in clear and well-integrated sound. Neither the Cologne Chamber Orchestra nor the soloist Sebastian Knauer employ period instruments, but their performances have a sense of proportion and a refinement that lend their own air of authenticity. Those who have heard the Cologne Chamber Orchestra under Helmut Müller-Brühl in various installments of Naxos’ Haydn symphony cycle will expect this.

In the 37 year old German pianist Sebastian Knauer they find an ideal collaborator. He is a natural Haydn pianist and an intuitive musical conversationalist. Although he plays a modern piano on this recording, he is alive to the balances required in Haydn’s music and creates dynamic contrast with shades of piano and pianissimo, caressing rather than banging his keys. His facility for nuance never draws attention to itself, colouring the score subtly instead. Knauer plays his own cadenzas in concertos nos. 3, 4 and 9 and in each case he captures the idiom beautifully.

The concerto in D major Hob.XVIII:11—in which Knauer plays Paul Badura-Skoda’s cadenzas—is the stand-out in this collection. It opens with a sprightly allegro first movement which spins a delightfully memorable tune, and closes with a glistening, spicy Hungarian rondo. The central slow movement, which is almost as long again as the first movement, has a wonderful singing quality. Knauer creates moments of delicate rhapsody here, breathing a gentle rubato and coaxing delicious pianissimi from his keys. This is mature Haydn: expressive, witty and infectious. It was a popular hit across Europe in its day, and it is easy to hear why.

The F major concerto Hob.XVIII:3 that precedes it on this disc is the work of a younger composer, but still bears its author’s marks. Just listen to the way the piano takes up and embellishes the artlessly pretty theme that is the first subject of the relaxed opening allegro. A dreamy adagio and a bright, witty presto balance the long first movement, and throughout orchestra and soloist are in fine form.

The first of the two G major concertos, Hob.XVIII:4 opens with a similarly spacious allegro, but as in the F major concerto the gentle pace does not dull the music’s impact. Instead it creates space for Knauer’s thoughtful articulation and phrasing. The closing rondo is perky, but it is the slow movement that really impresses here, exuding a sighing wistfulness.

All four of the concertos on this disc have had questions asked about their authenticity. Keith Anderson’s liner notes more or less confirm that nos. 3, 4 and 11 are genuine Haydn, though there seems to have been some retouching of the orchestration in nos. 3 and 4. As for no.9, which closes the disc, whether or not it is genuine Haydn it is certainly quite different from the three concertos that precede it. The scoring is much lighter and the outer movements are much shorter than the deeply meditative slow movement, which Knauer casts in beautiful legato phrases, delicately ornamented.

Haydn was no virtuoso, and his concertos for keyboard have no pretensions to the dazzle and grandeur of Mozart’s works in the medium. He was, however, an expert musical dramatist and had a magpie’s eye for sparkle. While Ronald Brautigam’s disc of nos. 3, 4 and 11 (together with 2) on BIS (CD 1318) crackle with greater excitement, these performances are unfailingly pleasing, making this just the sort of head-clearing, smile-inducing disc you will want to have close to hand at the end of a long day.

Robert Cummings
Classical Net, May 2008

And they’ll especially wonder after hearing these splendid performances by Sebastian Knauer (b. 1971), who has Haydn in his fingers, with delicacy and subtlety and wit and nuance and all manner of intelligence in his playing. Ironically, he has played and conducted from the keyboard all 27 Mozart piano concertos in concert, and is in demand throughout Europe and the Americas…The Cologne Chamber Orchestra, under the incisive Helmet Müller-Brühl, turns in spirited performances to round out this generously filled disc. The sound is vivid. Highly recommended!

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2008

We tend to forget that Haydn was already thirty before works of significance came into being, those composed before being the well-meaning output of a kepellmeister who earned most of his living as a teacher. The group of keyboard concertos began during his early maturity, though apart from the D major—the second work on the present release—they have dropped from the concert repertoire. From the title pages they were intended for performance on the clavichord, an instrument that would provide a very different quality to the modern piano used here by Sebastian Knauer. Born in Germany, Knauer was to make his concert debut in 1984 at Hamburg’s Musikhalle when aged thirteen playing Haydn’s D major concerto. He certainly has the measure of the music, both in shape and weight, resisting the temptation to recreate a period keyboard sound, a fact that goes through to the Cologne Chamber Orchestra’s use of modern instruments. The disc includes the Third, Fourth, Ninth and Eleventh concertos, and I particularly enjoy his nimble handling of the final Rondo movements in the Fourth and Eleventh concertos. He does use the sustaining pedal in the slow movements that emerge as early Beethoven, a style that Knauer takes up in the cadenzas he has composed for the first three concertos. The CD catalogue contains period aware recordings on instruments of Haydn’s time, but if you have an aversion to such sounds, this disc is highly desirable. Good clean and well-balanced sound.

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