Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Quirky combination: Haydn and Ligeti from Shai Wosner

Shai Wosner - Haydn, Ligeti - Onyx Classics
Haydn Capriccios, Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Piano Concerto No. 11 in C, Ligeti Capriccios, Piano Concerto; Shai Wosner, Danish National Symphony Orchestra, Nicholas Collon; Onyx Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jul 20 2016
Star rating: 4.0

Piano solos and concertos by Haydn and Ligeti, linked by a sense of wit

The combination of Haydn and Ligeti might seem an unusual combination for a CD, but this new disc from pianist Shai Wosner, the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Nicholas Collon on the Onyx Classics label makes an interesting case for the pairing. Both composers wrote Capriccios for solo piano, and so on we hear Ligeti’s two works in this genre alongside Haydn’s Capriccio (Fantasia) in C, Hob XVII:4 and Capriccio in G ‘Acht Sauschneider müssen sein’ Hob XVII:1

This latter work’s subtitle, ‘It takes eight of you to castrate a boar’ brings another link, the composers’ sense of humour. We also hear Ligeti’s Piano Concerto alongside Haydn’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Hob XVIII:4 and Piano Concerto No. 11 in D, Hob XVIII:111.

I have to confess that when listening to the CD blind, I rather wondered what I was in for as a Haydn piano concerto is followed by a Ligeti piano solo, then a Haydn piano solo (single movement, not a sonata), then the Ligeti Piano Concerto. At this point I was completely unaware of Haydn’s Capriccios, works which are notable for their mix of imagination with humorous intent. There is frankly as much contrast between the composers are there is commonality, but this works too as the one composer seems to complement the other.


The disc opens with Haydn’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G. We do not associate Haydn with the piano concerto as much as we do Mozart, but he displays great charm in the genre. In fact the majority of Haydn's keyboard concertos pre-date his acquaintance with Mozart so they represent an earlier stage of the classical concerto. The first movement, Allegro moderato is all perkiness and wit, with just a few minor key dramas and you can really sense the twinkle in the composer’s eye in this performance from Shai Wosner, the Danish National Symphony Orchestra and Nicholas Collon. The Adagio is a lovely movement, gently tender in style, whilst the bright and busy rondo finale returns to the wit of the opening. The concerto has quite a lot of dialogue between the piano and the orchestra, and Haydn’s actual accompaniment of the piano is quite discreet presumably because of the instrument’s limitations. Both soloist and orchestra play with a nice HIP feel, and a twinkle in their eyes.

Ligeti’s two Capriccios were written in 1947 whilst he was still studying at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. Capriccio No. 2 (which was written first) is a vigorous contrapuntal piece with the underlying rhythms having quite a jazzy feel. Haydn’s Capriccio in G ‘Acht Sauschneider müssen sein’ (it is not sure what the subtitle indicates, but it is probably a folk song) is a vigorously rhythmic dance with decorations in the right hand.

Ligeti’s Piano Concerto dates from 1985-88, some 40 years after the Capriccios. It is in five movements and uses quite a small orchestra with a number of unusual instruments including an ocarina. The opening Vivace molto uses complex contrapuntal textures with piano and ensemble interacting. There is rather a sense of humour in the writing particularly that for wind, and a rather jazz element in the piano. The second movement Lento e deserto rather spare, just fragments of ideas from individual orchestral instruments. When the piano enters it plays at the extremes of its registers, very quietly with noisy interruptions from the orchestra. At first these interruptions do not affect the piano, but the movement grows in volume, intensity and drama. The third movement, Vivace cantabile is full of strong, fast contrapuntal textures, delicate at first and then more insistent. The piano plays a rather toccata-like figure against a sustained wind background, and the more complex the movement gets the more dizzying the textures. The fourth movement, Allegro risoluto is full of fragmentary exchanges between piano and different instruments, again there is a feeling of jazz in the piano writing.  The final Presto starts almost as an extension of the previous movement.

This is followed by the first of Ligeti’s Capriccios, a work with a sense of Bachian contrapuntal writing heard through new ears. Haydn’s Capriccio (Fantasia) in C is quite a large scale piece, full of delightful wit and character.

The disc ends with Haydn’s Piano Concerto No. 11 in D which starts with a jaunty orchestral introduction which leads to a dialogue with the piano; again we note the wit with which Haydn wrote the music but there are hints of drama too. The central movement, Un poco adagio, is a graceful dialogue with some elaborate filigree writing in the piano. With the final Rondo all’Ungarese we conclude things in a witty and joyful manner, rather appropriately making reference to the music of Ligeti’s native country.

The booklet note by Shai Wosner is rather colourful and probably tells you more about his attitude to the works than the works themselves. Wosner seems to take both Haydn and Ligeti’s style in his stride and plays both with a sense of style and wit. In this he is admirably supported by Collon and the Danish National Orchestra, with the ensemble giving admirably different styles to the Ligeti and the Haydn.

If you are specifically interested in the Ligeti concerto then it is perhaps as well to investigate other recordings. Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who worked closely with the composer, has one account available as part of the Ligeti Project and another on a disc of all Ligeti's concertos conducted by Pierre Boulez. This disc’s main interest is in its rather quirky combination of composers, something which may pique your interest, or may not!

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) - Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, Hob XVIII:4
Gyorgy Ligeti (1923-2006) - Capriccio  No. 2
Franz Joseph Haydn - Capriccio in G 'Acht Sauschneider müssen sein' Hob XVII:1
Gyorgy Ligeti - Piano Concerto
Gyorgy Ligeti (1923-2006) - Capriccio  No. 1
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) - Piano Concerto No. 11 in D, Hob XVIII:11
Shai Wosner (piano)
Danish National Orchestra
Nicholas Collon (conductor)
Recorded DR Koncerthuset, Copenhagen, Denmark, 7 to 14 August 2015
ONYX CLASSICS ONYX4174 1CD [79.39]
Available from Amazon.co.uk.

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