Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Duo for violin and viola in G major KV 423 (1783) [16:28]
Michael HAYDN (1737-1806)
Duo for violin and viola No. 1 in C major MH 335 (P127) [15:03]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Duo for violin and viola in B flat major KV 424 (1783) [20:39]
Michael HAYDN
Duo for violin and viola No. 2 in D major MH 336 (P128) [18:36]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART
Menuetto (from 12 duos for horn KV 487) [1:58]
Rachel Podger (violin), Jane Rogers (viola)
rec. May 2011, All Saints Church, East Finchley, London

Never likely to be best-sellers, Mozart’s duos for violin and viola are however full of inventiveness, and this combination is one which always sounds fuller than one expects.
Competition for this fine recording by Rachel Podger and Jane Rogers is to be had, though not with quite the same programme. Mozart’s duos KV 423 and 424 are on a beautiful SACD disc from the Capriccio label, C71106, with Antje Weithaas and Tabea Zimmermann coupled with the Spohr Duo in E minor Op.13, and the Hungaroton label has a 2 CD set with all four of Michael Haydn’s surviving duos P.127 as well as P.128, 129 and 130 on HCD 32376-77. Duo Kelemen and Kotas also play very well, but are a bit more butch than the Capriccio pair or Podger/Rogers, digging into the strings for heightened contrast but trying a little too hard for my taste. Most expressively performed is the second ‘filler’ CD to Philippe Graffin and Nobuko Imai’s Sinfonia Concertante KV 364 on Avie AV2127, and if you are looking for a fairly romantic view of these pieces then this isn’t a bad choice at all.
Enough of the comparisons: where Podger/Rogers differ from the aforementioned recordings is in their period approach. Their use of gut strings makes for a different timbre, slightly more throaty than with the more up to date versions, though there is no lack of sparkle and upper resonance in the sonorities produced. These musicians don’t go overboard seeking dramatic effect or extra expressive emphasis, playing within the character of their instruments and bringing the music to life very effectively indeed. There is clearly a great deal of affection for the music shown here and there are plenty of little personal touches, such as subtle changes in tonal colour, and moments such as the subtle little portamento from Rachel at the beginning of the Andante cantabile of KV 424. The finale, Mozart’s Menuetto from the 12 Duos for Horn KV 487 is a perfect encore, Jane Rogers’ witty recurring boing in the bottom register the kind of joke I’m sure the composer and Jacques Tati would have relished.
The Mozart duos are said to have been supplied by the composer when Michael Haydn was having difficulty completing a set of six for his employer, the Archbishop of Salzburg. The proximity in style of the two composers is clearly present, though Michael Haydn is more inclined to give bravura material to the violin, seeing the viola as accompanist much as brother Joseph had in his six Six Sonatas of around ten years previous to the works here. Mozart’s work moves forward from the Sinfonia Concertante; also recorded by Rachel Podger (see review),in giving the viola a far more active role.
Compliments for this recording go to engineer Daan van Aalst who achieves the tricky balance of giving us plenty of detail in the sound and placing the musicians close enough for perfect definition, while at the same time avoiding glare and the fatiguing effect you have if you get the feeling the players are breathing down your neck. The 5.0 surround SACD effect is very nicely done, and this also makes a very fine stereo recording with pretty much ideal separation. Over 70 minutes of string duos may not sound like everyone’s cup of tea, but if you love Mozart’s string quartets you’ll be surprised at how far this instrumentation goes towards providing similar effects, so don’t miss out - give ’em a try.
Dominy Clements 

A superbly musical and well-proportioned recording.