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Quirky combination: Haydn and Ligeti from Shai Wosner

Shai Wosner
Planet Hugill

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.
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!
Read the rest of the review here