Hamelin and Labadie Team Up In Sensational Haydn

Review by: David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

On this astonishing disc Marc-André Hamelin demonstrates conclusively that a modern piano can do anything a fortepiano can in music of the classical period, while still retaining its superiority in dynamic range, sonority, and the ability to spin out a true, singing legato in the slow movements. Hamelin’s credentials as a major Haydn pianist need no further accolades from me. His six discs (so far) of solo sonatas for Hyperion remain treasures of the Haydn discography. Those same qualities of unaffected liveliness, graceful humor, and virtuoso abandon are equally in evidence here.

It’s a cliché to say that Haydn was not so major a concerto composer as Mozart—no one was. But these three works have plenty of charm and a character all their own. The D major, with its Hungarian finale, is rightly celebrated as the finest of Haydn’s keyboard concertos, but there is plenty to enjoy in the other works as well. Hamelin’s polished technique is placed completely in the service of the music, whether it’s in the brilliance of his passagework, the songfulness of the slow movements, or the gusto of his own cadenzas in the  F major and G major works (in the D major concerto he uses delightful cadenzas by Wanda Landowska).

Bernard Labadie and Les Violins du Roy accompany with equal ebullience and precision; they represent just about the best in period string playing, with a tone that is lean and incisive but never raw and scrappy. Both the F major and G major works use strings only, and you really get the sense in these performances that you are listening to a duet: piano and orchestra as equals, thanks in part to the beautifully balanced sonics. There have been excellent Haydn concerto recordings in recent  years on Harmonia Mundi and BIS, but forced to choose, I would go with this one for its all around excellence and its characterful realization of Haydn’s genial writing for solo keyboard and orchestra.

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