No other composer, in my experience, had such a warm and simple character (but a multi-faceted musical personality) as Joseph Haydn. Widely contrasting elements of Rococo delicacy and sturdiness combine with exuberance and melancholy, seriousness and wit, forcefulness and elegance. However, unlike Mozart, Haydn’s only concertos to have fared well are the two cello concertos (one discovered relatively recently) and his trumpet concerto. Neither the violin nor the keyboard concertos have entered the Haydn ‘canon’.
In the case of the keyboard concertos, it’s not for want of distinguished advocacy: In the mid ‘70s, Michelangeli (of all people ) recorded two with the Zurich Chamber Orchestra under Edmund de Stoutz and, more recently, pianists of the calibre of Andsnes and Hamelin have essayed their considerable charms, with impressive and persuasive results. Now, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet has interrupted his Haydn Sonata cycle with three genuine concertos ie. the three without textural or chronological ambiguity to cast doubt on their authenticity.
Bavouzet has been around for a while but recently he’s entered the “Is there anything this guy can’t do?” stratosphere with an acclaimed Beethoven Sonata cycle, an award winning Prokofiev Concerto cycle, Debussy, and miraculous Ravel, as heard in his Sydney recital last year. Bavouzet’s Haydn is, by turns, dazzling and thought-provoking: he thinks in paragraphs not sentences, let alone phrases. In the little known F Major Concerto, he dallies with highly personal 21st-century ornamentations and diversions in his own cadenzas to enhance music which is already is already beautifully phrased, but towards the end the of the slow movement of the early F Major Concerto he goes off on a brief, but utterly effective, frolic of his own, which Bazouzet claimed was inspired by Frederick Gulda but which one reviewer said reminded him of Bill Evans. (Thank heavens he uses a proper piano and not a mewling fortepiano).
The only familiar work here to most listeners is probably the last mature Concerto in D Major which is also the most substantial and demanding. Many of Haydn’s works are peppered, sometimes subtley, sometimes not, with Hungarian rhythms (he even chose one for the finale of his very last symphony) but it’s in this work that the so-called rondo alla ungarese reaches its pinnacle, aided and abetted by the marvellous Manchester Camerata conducted by Gábor Takács–Nagy – to the Magyar born you might say. The sound is exemplary but couldn’t Chandos have fitted one more of these delicious works, genuine or not, on to this CD?