Because Haydn's concertos do not constitute the strongest part of his output, it is important to begin this review with the composer at his best. Of the four works included on this CD of Haydn concertos, only one is top drawer, but it is a masterpiece of the form. This CD features Haydn's trumpet concerto together with three additional concertos written much earlier in his career. Helmut Muller-Bruhl conducts the Cologne Chamber Orchestra with a variety of soloists. These are not period performances; the Orchestra performs on modern instruments but in a historically informed way. This is a recent recording, dating from 2007. Muller-Bruhl has recorded the complete Haydn concertos in a six-CD compilation on Naxos in addition to his highly-regarded recordings of many Haydn symphonies.
Haydn wrote his trumpet concerto in E flat major in1796 in Vienna. By this time, Haydn had returned from his second trip to London, and his entire symphonic output was behind him. He composed the work for the inventor of a newfangled trumpet with five keys, which was an early attempt to give the performer a means of controlling pitch other than with his breath. The invention proved unsuccessful, and the contemporary valve trumpet did not come into use until about 1813. But Haydn's concerto uses the possibility of the instrument in a manner that has survived all technological changes. Unlike most of Haydn's concertos it is a virtuosic work full of fanfare, color, and range. It uses rapid-fire notes and features passages in the upper register of the trumpet. Besides the two flashy outer movements, the concerto features a lovely, meditative slow movement. As Karl Geiringer wrote in his famous study,"Haydn: A Creative Life in Music" (p 324); " With youthful enthusiasm the aged composer threw himself into the novel task, creating the finest solo concerto of his whole career and proving once more his flexibility and ability to absorb new ideas." Trumpeter Jurgen Schuster offers a fine performance of this much-loved work.
The remaining three concertos on this CD all were composed early in Haydn's career. Each of them has lovely features, but the concertos tend to lack the virtuosic solo performances that became the hallmark of the genre. They are more in the nature of ensemble music.
The best of the three works is the concerto in D major for horn, composed in 1762. This work was composed for an early version of the horn in which the performer had only limited ability to control the pitch of the instrument. Much of Haydn's concerto emphasizes the upper register of the horn. This is a melodious, expressive piece with good balance between the orchestra and the soloist. Haydn uses calls and fanfare, and many trilled passages on the horn. In particular, the concerto features a moving adagio between the two lively outer movements. Geiringer aptly said of this work ( p.235) that "the expressive music displays all shades of emotion, from powerful energy to tender longing." Dmitri Babanov performs this work on a modern French horn.
The remaining two works are early indeed, probably dating from Haydn's days as a freelance composer in Vienna in the late 1750s. The Keyboard concerto in D major likely was originally written for organ but is performed on this CD by Harald Hoernen on the harpsichord. This is a baroque-styled work which reminded me of Haydn's earliest symphonies. I found the recording well-balanced between orchestra and soloist. The solo line consists largely of runs and strumming passages in the right hand while the left hand tends to duplicate the lower parts in the orchestra. The work includes a lengthy slow movement and a sprightly rhythmic finale.
The final work on this CD, the double concerto for violin and keyboard, also likely dates from the late 1750s. The keyboard part is of limited range, suggesting again that it was initially composed for the organ. The main attraction of this work is the use of the fortepiano played by Hoeren together with violinist Ariadne Daskalakis. The fortepiano his a light, hollow, staccato sound which fits this music well. For the most part, the violinist in this piece follows the lead of the keyboard player. In turn, the keyboard soloist sometimes carries the melody, but he also acts as a fill-in with the orchestra. I enjoyed in particular the slow movement of this piece which features the soloists generally alternating with each other over a walking, pulsating accompaniment from the orchestra.
Listeners interested in the early Haydn in addition to the grand trumpet concerto will enjoy this CD.