HAYDN: Violin Concerto in C Major Hob. VIIa:1; Violin Concerto in A Major Hob. VIIa:3; Violin Concerto in G Major Hob. VIIa:4 – Giuliano Carmignola, violin/ cond. / Orchestre des Champs-Élysées – Archiv Produktion 477 8774, 59:29 *****:
Coming from the earliest years of Haydn’s employment at Esterhazy Palace, the violin concertos don’t represent the mature composer and are consequently not as popular as the Harpsichord Concerto in D, Cello Concerto in D, Trumpet Concerto, or Oboe Concerto in C that he didn’t write. If musicologists lament the fact that Mozart wrote no further violin concertos after his nineteenth year, it’s also a shame that Haydn didn’t write a violin concerto after around 1770. A shame, too, is the fact that while Concerto No. 2 is noted in Haydn’s works list, no copy of it has ever turned up. As it is, the three existing concertos came down to us in a very limited number of manuscript copies and were published only in the twentieth century.
Being works of Haydn, however, the concertos are hardly neglected; ArkivMusic.com lists forty-five recordings of the most popular, No. 1. And despite the fact that the Haydn of 1790 could probably have turned out a humdinger of a violin concerto, No. 1 especially, written for the obviously virtuosic Luigi Tommasini—who would one day be concertmaster of the Esterhazy Orchestra—lets a violinist show off in fine fashion and contains good tunes as well. The three concertos follow construction principles of the Baroque; the outer movements are based on a series of alternating orchestral-solo ritornelli. Similarly, the concertos are scored for violin, strings, and continuo, just as Vivaldi’s are. However, the style is recognizably the same Style galant you encounter in Haydn’s symphonies of the sixties, with long, elegant melodic lines treated homophonically.
Obviously, I haven’t heard anything approaching the forty-five recordings of Concerto No. 1, but based on recordings of these works I have heard, I’d say Giuliano Carmignola’s can be placed near the very top of the list, if not at its summit. The playing here is beautifully refined, fiery when that’s called for, meltingly affettuoso in Haydn’s gracious slow movements. These concertos sound so very right when played on original instruments, and in the strings of the Orchestre des Champs-Élysées, Carmignola has at his service a group of musicians that match him note for note in terms of ear-pleasing, disciplined playing. How they zip through the opening ritornelli in the finales, especially that of No. 4!
Deutche Grammophon’s sound, as is their wont lately, is intimate, just shy of in-your-lap, but the recording features refined string tone and a pleasing ambience. Most enthusiastically recommended.
French Romantic and Impressionism… Ivan Ilich