No one can be sure that the G major Violin Concerto recorded here is authentic Haydn. But with the composer’s reputation growing apace in the late 1760s, the publisher Breitkopf was more than happy to market it as his in an age when musical styles were so generic. As with the similarly early Double Concerto (originally for violin and organ), the first two movements go agreeably, and unmemorably, through the galant motions. Things then liven up in the finales, which certainly sound like Haydn c1760. More consistently compelling are the slightly later Horn Concerto, with its gravely reflective Adagio, and the G major Harpsichord Concerto, whose entertaining finale is one of Haydn’s earliest essays in the Tokay-flavoured gypsy style. A decade or so later, around 1780, Haydn riotously capped this finale in the famous Rondo all’ungarese of his D major Concerto, latest and finest of the concertos in this appealing mixed medley.
To ensure maximum sales, the D major Concerto was advertised as ‘for harpsichord or fortepiano’. While the outer movements work equally well on either instrument, the rhapsodic Adagio surely gains from a touch-sensitive instrument. It’s partly taste, of course, but to my ears Andreas Staier (playing on a period fortepiano), Leif Ove Andsnes and Marc-André Hamelin all distil more poetry and fantasy than the otherwise excellent Maxim Emelyanychev. And the riotously inventive solo Fantasia of 1789 is predicated on the dynamic and registral contrasts of the fortepiano. That said, Emelyanychev, using what sounds like a single-manual harpsichord, gives spruce, deftly timed accounts of both his solo concertos, shaping the Adagio of the G major with a vocal eloquence and bringing an infectious dash to the paprika-infused finales – and never mind the inauthentic pizzicato basses in the Rondo all’ungarese’s B minor episode.
The other concertos go well, too, even if Minasi’s sweet and gracefully nuanced violin is recorded too closely in the Double Concerto. If Haydn really did compose the G major Concerto, he’d have been lucky to hear it dispatched with such mingled zest and delicacy. Johannes Hinterholzer is a refined, mellow-toned soloist in the Horn Concerto, spinning a beautiful sustained line in the Adagio (where the Pomo d’Oro strings lean into Haydn’s dissonant suspensions), then relishing the comedy and virtuosity of the finale.
Directed by Maxim Emelyanychev, the spirited period band also give an enjoyable account of arguably the most popular, certainly the most eccentric, of Haydn’s ‘Paris’ Symphonies. In the first movement, especially, I sometimes craved a weightier body of strings (the Paris orchestra of 1787 fielded over 40 strings, to Pomo d’Oro’s 14). But the performance, trading on lean, faintly acerbic sonorities, is both sensitive and exciting. The developments of the outer movements generate a splendid vehemence, enhanced by keening oboes and rasping valveless horns, while the Andante, taken quite broadly, unfolds with a chamber-musical finesse (the orchestra’s precise dynamic shading, down to a conspiratorial ppp, is crucial here). I find a harpsichord continuo in this music mildly irritating. And why, I wonder, does Emelyanychev iron out the dotted rhythms that close each half of the first movement to three straight crotchets? Is there a new edition involved? Puzzling, though not enough to prevent recommendation of a Haydn anthology spanning a quarter of a century, and the passage from promising journeyman to consummate master.