Haydn: Violin Concerto Hob. VIIa:1 in C; Violin Concerto Hob. VIIa:4 in G; Symphony No. 22 in E flat (Philosopher)

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Violin Concerto Hob. VIIa:1 in C; Violin Concerto Hob. VIIa:4 in G; Symphony No. 22 in E flat (Philosopher)
PERFORMER: Pinchas Zukerman (violin/conductor)National Arts Centre Orchestra, Canada
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 60797 2 DDD
Haydn’s violin concertos – all early works composed before 1765 — have suddenly become very popular. These two are for string orchestra only, to which Pinchas Zukerman (soloist and conductor) has added a harpsichord continuo — also in the Symphony No. 22. Nowadays the presence or absence of a harpsichord continuo in Haydn’s concertos and symphonies can be a cause for divorce: a huge quantity of ink has been spilt of late over this vexed question. It seems likely, after all, that most of the time Haydn conducted his early symphonies from the violin and that there was no harpsichord continuo. Having said that, Zukerman’s continuo is most discreet and musical (the improvisations in the slow movement of the C major Concerto are delightful), and will offend only pedants. Even the cadenzas, by Marc Neikrug in the C major and Philipp Scharwenka in the G major, are inoffensive. The performances of the two concertos are stylish and warmhearted. I found the very slow tempo for the opening Adagio of the Philosopher Symphony unsatisfactory, pleasing though the performance is: it makes the music sluggish and robs it of a certain element of mystery. But if you are going to use a harpsichord in an early Haydn symphony, this is how to do it — no fancy faked amplification and great discretion, almost self-effacing. The sound is elegant. HC Robbins Landon

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