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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Violin Concerto No.4 in G major Hob: VIIa:4 (c.1761-65) [18:32]
Violin Concerto No.1 in C major Hob VIIa:1 (c.1761-65) [19:09]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sinfonia Concertante KV 364 (1779) [29:24]
Rachel Podger (violin); Pavlo Beznosiuk (viola)
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
rec. March (Haydn) and July (Mozart) 2009, All Saints’ Vicarage, East Finchley, London

Experience Classicsonline
Let’s start with K364. Since the documentation makes something of a thing about it, I will pass on the fact that Rachel Podger plays a 1699 Strad and that Pavlo Beznosiuk plays a c.1720 instrument by the same maker. They are strung in gut and played with Classical-style bows. Would you be less impressed if one of them had played, say, a Goffriller?

Let me say first of all that the engineering on this disc is really splendid. From top to bottom this is a quality act. Having just sat through an indifferent recording of the same work from a conventional, modern, non-HIP set up, in which the basses congealed and curdled like porridge in a vat, it was a real pleasure to hear the spruce clarity but warmth of this recording.

Back to the performances: Podger and Beznosiuk are fine players and estimable colleagues. I found their playing eloquent, technically accomplished, their sonorities blended finely, the unison passages were acutely judged, their interplay with the orchestra was similarly excellent and I was almost totally unmoved by it all. Maybe this says more about me than about them, but that’s the way it is. The Mannheim crescendos registered marvellously, the orchestra is light years past the days of horrendously scratchy original instrument fiddles, and the band’s top to bottom sonority is attractive. It’s hard to see where my objections could lie so let me just register a few thoughts. The ornamentation in the first movement does sound a touch forced, even unnecessary. The fluent, fluid slow movement with its tactile dovetailing also doesn’t, deliberately I think, dig too deeply in an expressive way. And the finale, whilst buoyant, could be just a touch more buoyant.

The Haydn Concertos occupy a different kind of stylistic sound-world, and so the potential for more interior expression is inevitably more limited. Podger is back to her accustomed Pesarinius fiddle, should this matter to you. The C major has an easy charm and lyricism, and though it’s a display piece with discreet and lightly etched orchestration it responds very well to this kind of elegantly refined playing. The aria-like lines of the slow movement over orchestral pizzicato are finely judged, though the recording is so good one hears all of Podger’s sniffs, especially in diminuendos. The bristly engagement etched into the finale allows for some fine ‘kicks’ and here that unblurred bass line pays more dividends. The companion concerto is again a study in elegance, and there’s a due sense of pathos in the slow movement where the supportive strings offer rugged lines. The crisp and avuncular finale shows off Podger’s excellent bow arm.

So this is something of a difficult recording to summarise. The performances are poised and convincing in many ways. You may find the Mozart more expressive than I did. You’ll certainly relish the recorded sound.

Jonathan Woolf


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