HAYDN Keyboard Concertos HobVIII/3, /4, /11
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet has proved himself one of today’s leading Haydn interpreters – amply so on five volumes of sonatas (and counting), each enthusiastically reviewed. He now presents the three authentic keyboard concertos in performances that demonstrate his innate love and understanding of this music in performances of the expected vivacity and insight.
All that hardly needs saying. However, readers will be aware of three existing benchmark digital recordings of these works and may wonder whether another is warranted. The answer has to be a confident and unhesitating ‘yes’, given Bavouzet’s highly individual approach and response to these scores.
In the sonatas he has been quite open about taking the score merely as a starting point, as a launch-pad for explorations of ornamentation and variation, and he adopts the same outlook here – not just varying reprises but decorating Haydn’s sometimes bare or pattern-based lines right from the start, almost from the first phrase of his entry in the F major Concerto (No 3). The slow movement of the same work he transforms into a solfeggio that unfolds seemingly in a single breath, effortlessly matching the opening violin solo in its vocal expressivity and rising to an almost Argerich-like freedom. The superbly reactive playing of Bavouzet and the Manchester Camerata renders the outer movements of the G major (No 4) more doggedly pithy than they can sometimes seem, while in the later D major (No 11), they play deliciously with the tempo in the Rondo all’ungherese finale.
Does this supplant the three direct comparisons, listed below? That will depend on your preference, whether for Ax, idiomatic if a touch monochrome, Andsnes’s liquid-crystal accuracy or Hamelin’s insouciance. While their approaches hail from west of Vienna, Bavouzet comes in from the east: he is married to a Hungarian, has more than a smattering of the language and collaborates here with a Hungarian director, all of which helps add to the piquancy of these performances – and not only in the D major’s finale. Bavouzet plays his own cadenzas, too, creating a delicious mix of 18th- and 21st-century flavours, which is true of his performances throughout these works.
It’s fair to say that this is neither Haydn’s most advanced music nor the most technically challenging for the pianist. But who would have thought there was so much to discover in it? I’d be loath to relinquish Andsnes or Hamelin from my collection but will gladly now make room for Bavouzet’s complementary and entirely personal take on these concertos.