Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Michael Haydn Duo Sonatas (violin: Rachel Podger viola: Jane Rogers) Review

Album. Released 2011.  

BBC Review

A warm ambience pervades this highly recommended album.

Graham Rogers 2012

Following her excellent series of Mozart's sonatas for violin and piano for Channel Classics, expert period-instrument violinist Rachel Podger now turns to the lesser-known duo sonatas for violin and viola. The two sonatas' relative unfamiliarity can mainly be put down to rarity of opportunity of performance; for musical invention and sunny appeal they rival many of Mozart's best chamber works. Podger and her violist partner Jane Rogers say they have long been favourite pieces of theirs (not least because the sonatas always ensured them double takings when busking as teenagers!) and their enthusiasm is borne out by these lively and committed performances.

Written in 1783, after Mozart had been settled in Vienna for a couple of years, the sonatas were actually the product of a return visit to his native Salzburg. His friend and fellow composer Michael Haydn (younger brother of Joseph) was still employed by the Archbishop of Salzburg, for whom he was struggling to complete a commission for six violin and viola duos. Haydn had finished four sonatas; Mozart stepped in to complete the set with two more.

Haydn's sonatas are attractive pieces that are certainly worth hearing, but it is no great shame that Podger and Rogers include only two of them on this album: his affable but classically conformational style pales beside the extrovert originality of Mozart's contributions. Building on the masterfully engineered relationship between solo violin and viola in his Sinfonia concertante K.364, Mozart revels in the operatic opportunities offered by – as Podger and Rogers put it, with only slightly fanciful exaggeration – “soprano diva” and “heroic tenor”. Anyone imagining that the works might lack depth, without piano or cello accompaniment, need only listen for a few minutes to be convinced by the richness and extraordinary variety of Mozart's writing – especially in such vibrant and beguiling performances.

The splendid recording has a warm ambience without compromising clarity – but, listening on headphones at least, there is a disturbing amount of traffic noise from outside All Saints Church, East Finchley. This is a pity but, once adjusted to, doesn't detract too much from an otherwise delightful and highly recommended album.

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