Movement 1: Vivace
Movement 2: Un poco adagio
Movement 3: Rondo all'ungarese: Allegro assai
The D major Concerto is both more melodically attractive and more tautly organized than the two earlier works. Like Mozart in his Viennese concertos, Haydn here infuses the concerto’s traditional ritornello design, based on the alternation of solo and tutti, with the drama and dynamism of sonata form. Except in the finale, Haydn does not work with Mozart’s profusion of themes. His scale, as usual, is more compact. But the opening Vivace has plenty of melodic contrast to offset the crisp, clear-cut main theme which galvanizes the whole movement. The ‘tapping’ figure of three crotchets in bar two proves especially fertile, above all in the rapidly modulating development, where it is bandied about between various string groups against the soloist’s broken semiquaver figuration.
While the first movement works equally well on harpsichord or piano, the musing, ornate Un poco adagio, in A major, cries out for the dynamic shadings possible only on a touch-sensitive instrument. In this delicately orchestrated movement (sustained oboes and horns add a soft gloss to the opening tutti), Haydn creates poetry from the simplest material. The central episode, slipping immediately from E major to E minor, expands a repeated triplet figure first heard near the beginning into an exquisite dialogue between keyboard and strings.
It was surely the finale that sealed the concerto’s popularity in Haydn’s lifetime, as the composer doubtless calculated it would. Haydn had already hinted at the Tokay-flavoured Hungarian gypsy style in the G major Keyboard Concerto, and mined it more extensively in pieces like the finale of Symphony No 47 in G major and the minuet and finale of the D major String Quartet Op 20 No 4. But this Rondo all’ungarese outdoes all comers in its mingled flamboyant exoticism and zany humour. The main tune, which initially sounds like a ‘normal’ Haydn finale theme, has been identified as a dance from Bosnia or Croatia. From the moment the tune is repeated in the ‘wrong’ key of E minor, with stinging grace notes, the music grows progressively more delirious. The first episode whirls fragments of the main theme through a frenetic sequence of modulations, audacious even by Haydn’s standards. A contrasting theme sounds like a paprika-infused ‘Three Blind Mice’, made faintly ominous with trills, while a later episode seems to transplant an impassioned operatic aria to the wildness of the Hungarian puszta.
from notes by Richard Wigmore © 2013