Haydn: Symphony 7 & 83, Violin Concerto in C
Handel and Haydn Society, Aisslinn Nosky, violin, Harry Christophers
Coro COR 16139. 74’24
Although Bach is something of a God-like figure for me, I think he would be rather scary to actually meet. I have often felt that I would love to have sat at a nearby table where I could overhear Bach, but would rather actually meet and converse with Haydn. The pieces on this CD demonstrate something of those aspects of Haydn’s character that make him appear so approachable. Amongst the first works that Haydn wrote after his 1761 arrival at the Esterházy court were the three symphonies based on the times of the day – Le main, Le midi and Le soir. Many players in the orchestra were already friends of his from Vienna, and these three symphonies were an inspired calling card for their new musical director, with most of the players given key solo moments.
Symphony No 7, Le midi, opens in rather martial style led by two horns and bassoon before giving two violins and cello a lead role in an Italianate concerto grosso movement. Although Haydn had only written one youthful opera by this time, the extraordinary Recitativo slow movement is, as the name implies, completely operatic in style with the first violin taking on the role of the hero (or, in this case, heroine). A cello and two flutes then take over leading to a beautiful cadenza for violin and cello. The Trio section of the Minuet features solos for the violone and horns, and all join in for the ebullient finale with all instruments having key roles. What better way for Haydn to reinforce musical friendships and lay the foundations for his extraordinarily creative time with the Esterházy family.
Years later, in 1779, Haydn’s contractual links with Esterházy were relaxed and he began his international career, notably with the six Paris symphonies dating from around 1785. Le midi was Haydn’s own title, but the Le poule (the Hen) nickname was a 19th century accolade, based on the jerky rhythms of the second theme of the opening movement. Whereas Le midi had some early indications of Haydn’s Sturm und Drang writing in the early 1770s, Le poule looks back to the same style, particularly in the opening Allegro, the clucking of the hen soon putting an end to that mood. It was written for a much larger orchestra than Haydn’s Esterházy works, with around 40 violins and 10 double basses, a size not replicated on this recording. But the reduced forces of the Handel and Haydn Society orchestra bring a much clearer focus to the music than the Parisian-sized forces could possibly manage. They play with an exemplary crispness and attention to detail, as well as relishing the lush moments of the slow movement.
Between the two symphonies comes the rather slight C major Violin Concerto. Seemingly written for Luigi Tomasini, the Italian leader of the Esterházy orchestra at about the same time as Symphony 7, it gives ample opportunity for the soloist to show of their wares. As with that symphony, it displays the Italian baroque influences on Viennese of the time. Soloist, and leader of the orchestra, Aisslinn Nosky gives a very convincing performance. I think she was probably directing as well as playing, and she manages to draw her fellow instrumentalists into the mood of the piece very effectively. Although there are very occasional moments of slight and rather un-stylistic portamento in the solo line, they do not detract from otherwise very clean articulation. The central Adagio is beautifully played.
Harry Christophers’ direction is stylistically appropriate although there are occasional moments when Haydn’s articulation and accents are slightly over-emphasised, notably in the opening of the Symphony 83. He also leaves slightly too big a gap between the Minuet and Trio in both symphonies. The engineers haven’t managed to remove all of Christopher’s characteristically loud sniffs (for example, at the return to the Minuet of Symphony 83), and similar moments in the concerto which might be from Aisslinn Nosky. But otherwise the live recording, drawn from two performances in January 2015 in Boston’s King’s Chapel, is good, with minimal audience noise.
Haydn lovers will not need any more convincing, but this is an ideal recording for those who want an introduction to Haydn in sparkling and friendly mood.