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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Violin Concerto in A major, H. VIIa/3 (c. 1770) [24:10]
Violin Concerto in C major, H. VIIa/1 (c. 1765) [18:27]
Violin Concerto in G major, H. VIIa/4 (c. 1769) [18:37]
Johann Peter SALOMON (1745-1815)
Romance for Violin and Orchestra [4:37]
Concerto Köln/Midori Seiler (violin)
rec. 2-5 May 2013, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Cologne
BERLIN CLASSICS 0300550BC [65:54]

Haydn’s violin concertos exist somewhat in the shadow of Mozart’s, but these three works are packed with good humour and brilliant inventiveness, and should be part of any collection engaged with the Classical era in all its forms. Midori Seiler has elected to record these in an authentic setting which is at first hearing somewhat austere in its general sound. There are no fewer than ten fashion-shoot portraits of our soloist included, which may or may not float your boat. Concerto Köln appears here in a compact group with three players to each violin part, two violas, one cello and one double-bass. These are very much chamber-music recordings done on original instruments and “without frills”, so that means no harpsichord continuo and, in this case, a relatively dry though by no means unattractive acoustic.
I reviewed Rachel Podger’s fine recording for Channel Classics with the G and C major concertos (see review), but there are a few competitors with all three of these concertos. Augustin Hadelich’s Naxos recording (8.570483 see review) or as part of a complete concerto set (see review) combines a more modern sounding solo with an ‘authentic’ vibe which includes harpsichord continuo to go with a more opulent but still nicely reserved-sounding orchestra. Another direct competitor with all three concertos is that with Giuliano Carmignola on the Archiv label (see review), whose smaller-sounding ensemble and more intimate recording balance comes closer to Seiler, but with a harpsichord nicely low in the mix and generally more mellow sonorities these are recordings with considerable appeal.
You just know this Berlin Classics recording is going to divide the reviewers straight down the middle. Those who can’t stand minimal forces and lack of vibrato will accuse it of sounding scrawny and unappetising, those attuned to and respectful of the search to reproduce the sound of Haydn’s Esterházy concerts will be more likely to see it as coming closer than many in this regard, and will respond to the lively energy and unpretentious directness in these performances. My gut instinct inclines me in this case to the former, my intellect and objective ear to the latter. I have a sense that this might be going just a little too far in the authentic direction, taking Haydn into hair-shirt realms which stand in the way of true enjoyment of the music. On the other hand, I hear a flavour of the legacy of earlier violin traditions in this recording – those of which Haydn must have been aware such as those of great Italians such as Vivaldi or Tartini. For this reason I am glad of a recording which can open refreshing new light on these concertos. This is one of those recordings which can be somewhat system sensitive, responding better to a warmer balance through your speakers or headphones. I suspect however, that with Concerto Köln easier on the ear than Midori Seiler in this instance, I doubt I will be turning to them for nocturnal comfort on a regular basis.
The filler for this programme is an intriguing little Romance by Johann Peter Salomon, who was a skilled violinist but is better known as the impresario who brought Haydn to London twice in the 1790s. The sparing textures and straightforward expression of this fine movement suit the performers here down to the ground, making the work a very fitting encore.
Dominy Clements