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Mozart, Haydn (Michael): Duo Sonatas - Podger, Rogers

Mozart, Haydn (Michael): Duo Sonatas - Podger, Rogers

Channel Classics  CCS SA 32411

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Chamber


Mozart, Michael Haydn: Duo Sonatas

Rachel Podger (violin)
Jane Rogers (viola)


The Duos for Violin and Viola by Mozart have long been favourite pieces of ours – pieces we’d take out and play when there wasn’t a keyboard player or cellist to hand, or busk as teenagers to earn extra pocket money. Back then, the audience’s response clearly indicated how appealing these pieces were as our takings always doubled when we played them! These works never cease to amaze – Mozart uses the two instruments so effectively and with such exquisite craftsmanship that he never leaves one wondering where the rest of the string quartet might have gone….They are also hugely engaging to play and so endlessly rich and interesting that the appeal to the listener is guaranteed.

Mozart’s reference to other genres is always fascinating. In this case the writing is dramatic, operatic even (the violin taking the role as soprano diva (!) and the viola as the heroic tenor?!). One could perhaps go as far to say that these duos are distillations of the art of chamber music as in the Haydn quartets, but more naturally recreational and less self-conscious. For a violist they are about as exposed as you can be; hitherto very few sonatas or concerti had been written for solo viola – and the accompaniment would seldom have been as scant as a single violin. The conversational and imitative nature of the writing allows for freedom and characterization, and it was refreshing and rewarding to be as spontaneous as possible in the recording sessions. It was also a diverting and enjoyable experience to record two of the Michael Haydn duos, previously unknown to us both.

The character of these pieces is often reminiscent of Austrian folk music and it really seems as if you can hear the yodelling vernacular bouncing off the mountains in timely echoes. The challenges in these works are quite different to those of his friend Wolfgang – the demands placed on the violinist are obvious as the writing is busy, yet in need of a casual fluidity, whereas the violist has the task of being constantly inventive with material which is largely accompanimental (melody and bass, in effect). Who knows? Maybe Wolfgang and Michael tried these out during Mozart’s visit to Salzburg when he helped his friend complete a set of six Sonatas in 1783.

Rachel & Jane

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Review by Graham Williams - November 21, 2011

The story goes that the Archbishop of Salzburg commissioned Michael Haydn, an old friend of Mozart, to compose six 'Duos for Violin and Viola', but Haydn had only completed four of them when he was taken ill. The Archbishop is said to have withheld his pay as an incentive for him to recover and write the other two. When Mozart visited Haydn in the summer of 1783 and heard of his friend's plight he set to work to compose the remaining two duos. He subsequently gave them to Haydn to pass to the Archbishop under his own name. Both Mozart duos are lovely works of the highest quality and patently superior to Haydn's own compositions. However, as the fine performances on this SACD demonstrate, the latter are still most enjoyable and entertaining for the listener in a less sophisticated way.

On this recording Rachel Podger is joined by the viola player Jane Rogers, and in addition to the two Mozart duos (K 423 in G and K424 in B flat) they have chosen to perform the first two of the four duos Michael Haydn completed (No. 1 in C and No. 2 in D).

By the time Mozart came to write his duos he had already composed the Sinfonia Concertante K364 so he was familiar with the possibilities of writing for these two instruments and his unique genius is apparent in every bar of these compositions. The freshness, and sheer inventiveness of Mozart's melodic writing can be sampled in the concluding variations of K424 (Tr.10) while the depth of expression is evident in the slow movements of both works. There are often moments when it is hard to believe that only two instruments are playing such is Mozart's supreme compositional skill.
The two Michael Haydn duos are more conventional in style. Whereas Mozart contrives to make the viola an equal partner, in the Haydn compositions the instrument is often reduced to an accompanying role allowing the violinist to demonstrate the virtuosity of their playing with boisterous vigour and rustic charm.

Rachel Podger and Jane Rogers give wonderfully polished performances of all the music on this disc. Their perfect intonation, crisp articulation and cultured phrasing is sheer delight. As a brief 'encore' they also give us a delightful and humorous account of an arrangement of a 'Menuetto' from one of Mozart's 12 duos for two horns K487 composed in 1786.

The recording, made in All Saints Church, East Finchley, London, is skilfully balanced allowing the rich sound of Rachel's Pesarinius 1739 violin and Jane's more recent Jan Pawlikowski (Guarnerius model) to blend seamlessly. The image of the two performers is fairly centrally placed – no exaggerated left right division – yet the individual instrumental lines can be followed with ease.

This is a most desirable disc that can be confidently recommended to all lovers of exquisitely crafted, if less familiar, chamber music.

Copyright © 2011 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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