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Haydn Concertos Given Their Due

Jens F. Laurson

Artistic Quality:

Sound Quality:

This disc has been on my “CD of the Week” or similar-such review-pile for as long as it’s been out–which is going on five years. High time finally to review what is an excellent, subtly brazen disc of three Haydn violin concertos with Midori Seiler and the Concerto Köln. Seiler (not to be mistaken with the mononymous Midori) has found her home in the historically informed realm of classical music–she is associated with Anima Eterna Brügge, Concerto Köln, and the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin. She stands out of the HIP-crowd with her forceful playing–and in-your-face directness married to pitch-perfection that strikes me (on the former grounds, not the latter) as more reminiscent of HIP converts like Viktoria Mullova than fellow HIP veterans like Rachel Podger. With Jos van Immerseel she has tackled Mozart (10/10 on ClassicsToday), Beethoven, and Schubert sonatas (ZigZag); on Harmonia Mundi she’s recorded Bach, Telemann (10/10), Vivaldi, and Rebel concertos. Her Bach Partitas and Sonatas, like these concertos, are on Berlin Classics.

There’s no questioning the greatness of Haydn in anything he wrote–but that said, his symphonies, Masses, string quartets, and piano trios get more attention than his works in other genres, such as operas and concertos. That’s not just a question of quantity. The operas are definitely “of their time”, and despite every well-intended attempt to reclaim them as hidden masterpieces, they simply aren’t up to the standards set by contemporaries Gluck and Mozart. And perhaps the concertos aren’t quite, either, but here it’s usually anemic historically informed–or glib modern–performances that make them sound like an afterthought; in one ear and out the other. That’s where Seiler and Concerto Köln are different. The splendid mix of light-footed agility and intense fervor (for example in the opening of the C major concerto) of this orchestra-soloist combination makes this release stand out. The subtly moving minor touches, notable right from the first track in the opening movement of the A major concerto, prompt and reward closer listening. There’s attention to detail without getting lost in the thicket.

Seiler’s tone is sinewy but elegant, which shows nicely in the slow movement of the same concerto. And while there is that proper inner tension to the music, the tempos are actually rather moderate: The attention that these renditions seek and achieve does not come from a “let’s-simply-play-faster-than-this-has-ever-been-played-before approach”, to which some early music groups seem sometimes drawn. The bonus on the disc is the Romance for Violin and Orchestra by Johann Peter Salomon, who of course became more famous as Haydn’s concert organizer in London than as the composer or violinist he also was. Musically it’s not quite as gratifying as Haydn himself, but it’s a lovely gesture and end to a terrific recording.

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: This one; Augustin Hadelich (Naxos)

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