Arcangelo / Jonathan Cohen

Haydn: Sinfonia concertante; Mozart: Concertos

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AllMusic Review by James Manheim

Haydn's Sinfonia Concertante in B flat major for violin, cello, oboe, and bassoon, Hob. 1/105, is among his most recorded works, and among his most utterly joyful. But it has rarely reached the heights of ebullience achieved in this historical-instrument reading by the small British ensemble Arcangelo and its conductor, Jonathan Cohen. The list of things to be enthusiastic about is long, but it begins with the differentiation of the instruments in the solo passages, with the period oboe and bassoon of Alfredo Bernardini and Peter Whelan, respectively, having the depth of texture to stand up to the brilliant Stradivarius violin and Guarneri cello of Ilya Gringolts (a renowned soloist in his own right) and Nicolas Altstaedt. The solo portions of this work have never seemed so alive with detail and shifting shades. But they are matched by Cohen and his ensemble, who perfectly catch Haydn's droll humor in the work: the totally unexpected instrumental recitative that opens the finale (and who knows, might have inspired the similar passage in Beethoven's Symphony No. 9), the sudden orchestral interjections that keep listeners off balance, the slightly sly French lyricism in the opening movement. The two solo concertos that round out the program are both given a lot of personality by their soloists (Bernardini and Whelan), but the Sinfonia Concertante gets a performance that seems destined to be a standard and really demands attention here. Only rather harsh church sound detracts from an extraordinary experience.

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