The most recent CD from Australian Haydn Ensemble is an exciting release. Australian Haydn Ensemble : Beethoven Piano Concertos 1 & 3 – Chamber Versions appears after a cycle of all Beethoven concertos was presented during live concerts in chamber music format by AHE. It also marks the second CD release in as many years from AHE, following on from a successful recording debut in 2016 with The Haydn Album on the ABC Classics label.
Piano soloist and early music scholar Neal Peres Da Costa brings his experience in period keyboard practice to this project. He is joined by AHE Artistic Director Skye McIntosh (violin), and period
instrumentalists Matthew Greco (violin), Gabrielle Kancachian (viola), James Eccles (viola), Daniel Yeadon (cello), Jacqueline Dossor (double bass) and Melissa Farrow (flute).
This recording was made at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s Recital Hall West. Excellent clarity of sound is achieved by recording engineer Thomas Grubb (Mano Musica). Another star of the
ensemble is the replica 1819 Graf piano, built by Paul McNulty and prepared by Colin van der Lecq to period temperament and pitch.
The bright tone of this instrument enables the solo part to sparkle with considerable eloquence. It soars above the accompaniment at times and blends nicely into the chamber ensemble’s textural
tapestry. The Graf replica includes two extra expression pedals which offer new pianistic effects for the modern listener and these classic Beethoven works.
Vi King Lim’s arrangements of these two concertos in chamber music style enable strings and flute to create effective broad strokes in the accompaniment and full sound-worlds in tutti sections. There
are innovative options for orchestration as wind parts are distributed elsewhere and the string intensities are crowned with a flute line.
Early Beethoven is a good vehicle for such experimentation in arrangement. It was the young composer who sought through performance and publishing to introduce his flexible keyboard
virtuosity and compositional style to the Viennese. Using new harmonic and emphatic surprises, his complex writing extended boldly the essential drama present in Mozart’s music.
This recording offers satisfying mood changes, elements of surprise and fine expressive moments. Using period techniques, rhythmic motives are rendered with artistic unevenness by soloist and
ensemble to make melodies stressed more strongly at key points . Tempo changes and manipulation further enhance the building of drama or communication of expressive moments.
The instrumental forces in the arrangements admirably handle Beethoven’s palette of nuance. Unexpected dynamic shifts in this string and flute environment are securely and excitingly executed,
especially for the louder outbursts. The openings to both the C major and C minor concertos are commanding and full in sound. We do not miss or require a full orchestra when listening. The instrumental group communicates Beethoven’s unique punctuation of structure with energy and focussed force.
Making use of his knowledge surrounding historical keyboard performance, Neal Peres Da Costa uses the capabilities of the Graf replica fortepiano to fine effect. This is especially noticeable upon
listening after having read his detailed descriptions of expressive techniques in the CD notes.
The rondo finale movements to both works are constantly varied with use of the moderator pedals on the instrument. Veiled and glassy tone colours emerge, employed to render rondo motive repetitions differently, or to present bravura and accompaniment runs from allegro movements with a new lustre.
An exquisite elegance and poise is supplied from the strings, flute and careful approach to the piano part during each Largo movement. Gently rolling period performance practice arpeggiations enhance the chordal format of the piano opening to Concerto No 1 in C major’s slow movement. The chamber music arrangement is perfect for delivering the requisite intimacy, with balance and
interaction between ensemble and piano being effectively calibrated.
During the second movement to Concerto No 3 in C minor, we are once again given a mesmerising lesson in how a very slow Beethoven largo opening can quickly evolve into a significantly intricate
soundscape with flowing division. Neal Peres Da Costa once again uses all resources, knowledge and ensemble playing skill to interact with AHE during the delicate and determined moments of this
This joyous, educational and enlightened CD complements the 2016 debut recording release for AHE. It continues to celebrate the ensemble and its associated talent. The CD also consolidates some of the recent live concert history for the Ensemble. It contributes extensive early music knowledge of historic concerto to AHE’s discography as well as to recordings for the late eighteenth century genre in general.