Christophers and Handel and Haydn Society Shed Fragile Rays of Hope


Haydn: Symphonies No. 26 & 86
Mozart: Violin Concerto No. 3
Harry Christophers, conductor
Handel and Haydn Society
Aisslinn Nosky, violin

The British conductor Harry Christophers has his own record label, Coro, which turns out a stream of fine performances, mostly with his own group The Sixteen, and mostly unnoticed outside the shrinking pages of record magazines. Which is a pity, since some of them are very fine performances indeed.

The latest release is with Christophers’ other group, the venerable Handel and Haydn Society of Boston, America’s oldest performing arts organization. It presents two Haydn works written 20 years apart with Mozart’s G major violin concerto sandwiched in between. This is a brilliant piece of programming for any number of reasons, not least because it shows Haydn looking both to past and future, with his protégé skipping around in the middle.

The Lamentatione Symphony of 1768 harks back to the oratorios of Bach and Handel, with phrases that might sit just as easily in Messiah or St. Matthew’s Passion. Devotional in the simplest meaning of the word, it is exquisitely short – two four-minute movements with an eight-minuter in the middle – leaving the listener positively gasping for more.

The 86th, one of Haydn’s Paris Symphonies, has a majestic opening followed by a frenetically spirited Allegro, a dance on the edge of the French volcano of the late 1780s. Haydn is too careful ever to address a political context but it’s there to be heard.

What an accomplished set of musicians they have at the H&H. The Mozart concerto is played by concertmaster Aisslinn Nosky without fuss or pretence at virtuosity, restoring the work to its intended courtly or domestic setting. Nosky favours one or two pps more than most soloists and I’m surprised how much I like it her way. In a grey January week, this unpretentious little album sheds fragile rays of hope.

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About Author

Norman Lebrecht is a prolific writer on music and cultural affairs. His blog, Slipped Disc, is one of the most popular sites for cultural news. He presents The Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3 and is a contributor to several publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The Standpoint. Visit every Friday for his weekly CD review.

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