In terms of concertos, Franz Joseph Haydn's not inconsiderable output in that area is dominated by his cello concerti, the one for trumpet, the first of his horn concerti, and his Sinfonia Concertante, sometimes referred to as his "Symphony No. 105." However, his keyboard concerti have not fared as well by comparison; they are mostly early, and some have controversial musical attributes that make us wonder if he really composed them. Nevertheless, the best of them are well worth knowing, and this is what Naxos has done in its Joseph Haydn: Keyboard Concertos by separating out the best five concertos from his alleged output of 22 works in the genre and concentrating on recording those in the best way possible, rather than undertaking a costly traversal of the whole cycle. Helmut Müller-Brühl leads the Cologne Chamber Orchestra in three organ concerti and two for harpsichord; Harald Hoeren performs as soloist in the organ works, whereas Ketil Haugsand takes on the harpsichord ones.
As the first three pieces all date from a time before Haydn accepted his post as kapellmeister for the Esterházy court, and the Concerto in F major only from shortly thereafter, the disc forms a nice, potted glimpse of Haydn's musical style in its earliest days. The so-designated organ concerti are all two manual works with no pedals, and likely did double duty as harpsichord concerti; Naxos intelligently alternates the organ from harpsichord concerti so that our ears are not wearied by the sound of either soloist. The first organ concerto in C major shows that Haydn already had a strong grip on his bold and fresh galant idiom, though is still paying a little lip service to the Baroque tradition; the middle movement Largo sounds more like a movement from Johann Sebastian Bach than almost anything else in Haydn. Annotator Keith Anderson's comparison of the C major harpsichord concerto to Johann Christian Bach's concerti of this era is a point well taken, and the sparkling F major harpsichord Concerto -- the work here that has the most difficulty in terms of attribution vis á vis Haydn -- is one of the disc's highlights. About the only thing that could have been better is that the sonic relationship between Hoeren's organ and Müller-Brühl's band is occasionally at a disadvantage, and this is a little unusual in that the harpsichord is the instrument that usually suffers in such quarters, but not here; the harpsichord sounds fine. Nevertheless, Naxos' Joseph Haydn: Keyboard Concertos is an outstanding primer for this neglected area of Haydn's production and adds a distinctive and desirable entry to the many-faceted dialogue that will no doubt emerge among recordings in the "Haydn Year" of 2009.