Gil Shaham plays Haydn & Mendelssohn

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COMPOSERS: Haydn,Mendelssohn
LABELS: Canary Classics
WORKS: Haydn: Violin Concertos Nos 1 & 4; Mendelssohn: Octet for Strings in E flat, Op. 20
PERFORMER: Gil Shaham (violin); Sejong Soloists
CATALOGUE NO: CC08

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 Haydn’s violin concertos are among the Cinderellas of his output – youthful, personable yet all too rarely invited to the ball. Quite what two of them are doing chaperoning the Mendelssohn Octet – unless to showcase Gil Shaham – is a bit of a mystery despite some admirable contortions on the part of the liner-note writer.

Shaham’s phrasing is always elegantly turned out, but as with the pristine ‘finish’ of the Sejong soloists, personality is a ready casualty, and the razor-sharp rhythmic articulation and ensemble often become an end rather than a means. Elizabeth Wallfisch and the OAE are more idiomatic – more spacious too – and as with the Mendelssohn, the technical aplomb of Shaham and his Soloists risks charges (just about averted) of occasional slickness. 

The Octet is played in the 1832 revision but with elements of the 16 year-old’s first thoughts. In practice this translates into brisker tempos, but with the exception of the Andante (more convincing here in its sweet-toned benedictions than anguished probings), rivals such as Hausmusik  – whose gut strings and period insights would be instantly familiar to Mendelssohn – or the vivacious modern instrument Academy of St Martin’s in the Fields never feel sluggish by comparison, even when the clock tells a different story.

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The Sejong Soloists muster a propulsive verve in the first movement, but Mendelssohn’s adolescent testosterone and urgent striving is often squandered. Both Scherzo and Finale work best, the former because the half-lit filigree is beautifully realised, the latter thanks to the guiding hand of some exhilarating counterpoint. But there’s more to the Octet than boundless energy. Paul Riley