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Franz Joseph HAYDN: Symphonies and Solo Concertos

[I] "Violin Concerto no 1 - Symphonies No. 49 'La Passione' & no. 80"
Gottfried von der Goltz, violina
Freiburger Barockorchester
Dir: Gottfried von der Goltz

rec: August 2008, Freiburg, Paulussaal
Harmonia mundi - HMX 2962029 (© 2009) (69'19")

[II] "Haydn/Hofmann: Concerti"
Alexis Kosenko, transverse fluteb; Julien Chauvin, violinc; Atsushi Sakaï, cellod
Le Cercle de l'Harmonie

rec: Sept 2008, Villefavard
Eloquentia - EL 0917 (© 2008) (66'04")

[I] Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809): Concerto for violin, strings and bass in C (H VIIa,1)a; Symphony in f minor 'La passione' (H I,49); Symphony in d minor (H I,80)
[II] Franz Joseph HAYDN: Concerto for cello and orchestra in C (H VIIb,1)d; Concerto for violin, strings and bass in G (H VIIa,4)c; Leopold HOFMANN (1738-1793): Concerto for transverse flute and orchestra in D (Badley D1)b

The two discs reviewed here show some less familiar aspects of Haydn's oeuvre. The Symphony No 49 is rather well-known, and so is his Concerto for cello and orchestra in C. But his violin concertos are not often played, certainly not on the concert platform, and the Symphony No 80 belongs to his less frequently played orchestral works.

Let us first look at the recording by the Freiburger Barockorchester. From a commercial viewpoint it may well be a good thing to present just one violin concerto here in combination with two symphonies. The latter belong to Haydn's most popular works and therefore in particular people who like the playing of the Freiburger Barockorchester may feel tempted to purchase this disc because of the symphonies. This way they will get the opportunity to discover the qualities of the violin concerto. Had Gottfried von der Goltz recorded all three of Haydn's violin concertos the recording may have been ignored as not that many people really know about the merits of these works.

The very fact that Haydn has specifically written the Concerto for violin, strings and bass in C for Luigi Tomasini, a member of the court orchestra of the Esterházy's and since 1790 concertmaster, is an indication that it is technically challenging. Tomasini also played in Haydn's string quartets, and in particular in the early quartets the first violin has a prominent role, which was clearly reflecting the qualities of Tomasini. But he was also known for his sweet tone, and that features prominently in the beautiful slow movement. The fast movements are not just technically virtuosic, but also sparkling and full of energy, which reflects the key of C major.

I have two recordings of all three concertos: Simon Standage with the English Concert, directed by Trevor Pinnock (Archiv), and Thomas Zehetmair, with the Amsterdam Bach Soloists (Olympia). The latter is on modern instruments, but the interpretation is strongly influenced by the historical performance practice. Both Standage and Zehetmair play with considerably more vibrato than Von der Goltz. The latter is certainly the most 'correct' in this respect, but I had liked him using a bit more as an ornament, just too give a little more differentiation to the solo part, which I find a little too rigid. Especially in the first movement I sometimes found it hard to keep concentrated, also because of the slow tempo. As it is an allegro moderato, Standage is definitely too fast (8'41"), but I think Von der Goltz is taking too much time (10'19"). Zehetmair probably got it quite right (9'30"). In the other movements Von der Goltz is also the slowest, but there I think he has found the right speed. Zehetmair takes the adagio as an andante, whereas his finale (presto) is also a bit too fast.

The Symphony No 80 in d minor is a rather strange piece. In his programme notes Andreas Friesenhagen calls the first movement a piece with two faces because of the juxtaposition of the serious beginning and the Ländler at the end of the first section. This characterisation could be extended to the symphony as a whole which is a challenge to the orchestra. I have to say that the Freiburger Barockorchester doesn't quite meet that challenge. The accents in the first movement are very powerful which is fine, but the Ländler could have been a bit more playful. It is just dead serious, and that is also the case in the witty finale with its syncopated rhythm.

The Symphony No 49 in f minor is nicknamed 'La passione' and often connected to Holy Week. But there is no real reason for that as the nickname is not authentic. There is even a musicologist who believes it is a theatrical piece. Although Andreas Friesenhagen underlines the dark character in reference to the key of f minor, in which all four movements are written, the powerful and almost muscular interpretation makes me lean towards the theatrical interpretation of this piece. Whether that was intended by the performers I don't know. The connection between the programme notes and the actual interpretation is often pretty loose.
But how this symphony's meaning is interpreted can influence someone's assessment of the interpretation. That is especially the case with the use of the harpsichord. It is generally thought Haydn never used the harpsichord in his symphonies anyway, and from this perspective it is rather odd that it is used in both symphonies. But if you interpret the symphony as a gloomy and sad piece, whether it is related to the Passion or not, then the sudden entrance of the harpsichord at the first forte in the first movement is quite annoying and even disturbing.
As you will have gathered I am not that happy about this disc, certainly not as happy as I usually am about the recordings of this orchestra.

Le Cercle de l'Harmonie brings three solo concertos, one of which is sometimes attributed to Haydn, but is generally thought to be a work by Leopold Hoffmann. The three soloists also direct the ensemble, and Julien Chauvin starts off with the Concerto for violin and strings in G. Haydn has written four violin concertos, one of which has gone missing. Of the remaining three this concerto is assumed to be the first, and probably dates from before 1761. Unlike the Concerto in C it was not written for Luigi Tomasini and it also is less virtuosic. In his programme notes Marc Vignal states that stylistically it has more to do with the Italian baroque than with the classical style. In comparison to both Standage and Zehetmair the tempi are considerably slower here - and rightly so, in my opinion. The first movement is an allegro moderato, like the first movement of the Concerto in C, and with 8'16" Chauvin has found the right tempo. I very much like the relaxed way he plays his part, and like Von der Goltz he uses only a slight vibrato as an ornament now and then, but even so I think there is a little more differentiation in the solo part here. The second movement is an adagio which is expressive and is given a very beautiful reading here. The last movement is an allegro - again the tempo is good, athough I wouldn't mind a somewhat faster performance. But in Julien Chauvin's interpretation I don't object the tempo he has chosen. In short, this is a compelling performance by the soloist and the orchestra.

It is rather different in the second item, I'm afraid. The Concerto for cello and orchestra in C was only discovered in the 1960s and nowadays it is probably Haydn's most popular solo concerto. It was written for Joseph Weigl who on Haydn's recommendation was appointed at the court of Paul Anton Esterházy in Eisenstadt in 1761. The cello concerto was probably composed between 1762 and 1765. The solo part is technically challenging and that is particularly the case with the last movement in which Haydn applies the then recently invented thumb-position technique. The concerto immediately strikes the ear in the first movement with its march rhythm, but this performance doesn't. The rhythm is underexposed and the dynamic shades are minimal. The tempo is also too slow: the indication is allegro, but here it is treated like an allegro moderato. The second movement's tempo (adagio) is right, but it is not very captivating because of a lack of dynamic contrast and differentation in the articulation. The last movement comes off best, but is still unimpressive. There is no way that this performance can seriously compete with other interpretations available on disc.

As far as we know Haydn wrote one flute concerto, but unfortunately that is lost. The Concerto for transverse flute and orchestra in D which sometimes is attributed to Haydn was in fact written by Leopold Hofmann. He was born and died in Vienna and had a high reputation as a violinist and composer. In the latter capacity he was a pupil of another respected Austrian master, Georg Christoph Wagenseil. The flute concerto recorded here is one of 13 of Hofmann's concertos for the transverse flute which have survived. Alexis Kossenko gives a very good performance, with much expression in the adagio and a particularly sparkling and brilliant allegro molto concluding the concerto. It is for the violin and flute concertos that I recommend this disc, for the cello concertos there are many others to choose from.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

Relevant links:

Freiburger Barockorchester
Le Cercle de l'Harmonie

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