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Briefly Noted: Hamelin's Haydn

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Haydn, Keyboard Concertos 3/4/11, M.-A. Hamelin, Les Violons du Roy, B. Labadie

(released on April 9, 2013)
Hyperion CDA67925 | 61'44"

available at Amazon
Haydn, Keyboard Sonatas, Vol. 3, M.-A. Hamelin
Marc-André Hamelin plays Haydn on a Steinway, unapologetically and beautifully. We have admired the Canadian pianist's immaculate, sleek, ornately decorated Haydn sonatas in concert, at fine recitals in 2011 and 2009, and his series of recordings of the sonatas is in the same category and, in 2-CD installments at a single-disc price, not expensive. This spring Hamelin released a disc of Haydn keyboard concertos, choosing to go back to his native Quebec to collaborate with Les Violons du Roy and conductor Bernard Labadie. Most days I would opt for more HIP-oriented performances, like Andreas Staier on fortepiano with the Freiburger Barockorchester (Harmonia Mundi, 2005) or Ton Koopman on harpsichord with Musica Antiqua Amsterdam (Philips, 1996), but in many ways Hamelin's performance captures many of the same sparkling, light qualities.

The three concertos combined here, each lasting around twenty minutes, are the only ones that can actually be attributed to Haydn with any certainty. The history of problems authenticating the many such pieces supposedly by Haydn is laid out in an informative booklet essay by scholar Richard Wigmore, the author of The Faber Pocket Guide to Haydn, published during the Haydn anniversary year in 2009. Publishers in the 18th and 19th century often took advantage of the fame of Haydn's name to give music a better chance at popularity, so often in fact that even contemporaries doubted the provenance of new Haydn pieces. The D major concerto (Hob. XVIII:11), destined for either harpsichord or fortepiano, is certainly the best known of the three, which Hamelin performs with the somewhat fancifully Romantic cadenzas of Wanda Landowska (some of the harmonies, especially in the one for the slow movement, sound like Poulenc at times). In the best virtuoso tradition, Hamelin plays his own cadenzas for the two earlier concertos, in F major (Hob. XVIII:3) and G major (Hob. XVIII:4), and given the scope of his own compositions, they are (not surprisingly) flashy, witty, and overall delightful. Labadie and his ensemble, just strings in the earlier concertos and with fine oboes and horns in the D major, provide an agile and sensitive backdrop.

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