The Modern Drama of Haydn and Mozart, with H+H

Jan 21, 2019

The Handel and Haydn Society’s newest recording features two impassioned symphonies by Haydn and Mozart's brilliant Sinfonia Concertante, and we’ve chosen it as our CD of the Week.

Haydn, who was a modern composer when the Society was formed in 1815, still sounds that way under Harry Christophers’ direction. Mozart’s brilliant Sinfonia Concertante is here, too, in a performance overflowing with Mozart’s love of life. It was all recorded in the warm acoustic of Boston’s Symphony Hall. 

Harry Christophers has been at the helm of H+H for ten years. He marked the organization's bicentennial with them in 2015, and now he’s leading them into their third century of music-making. Christophers  conducts with a presence and technique that draws musicians together in an almost mysterious way. Even as he calibrates a perfect balance in the sound and lavishes attention on the details, the music is always charged with life, articulated with an urgent sense of humanity. You can hear it from the very first measure of Haydn’s 49th Symphony on H+H’s newest recording. 

The 49th is known as “La Passione” in part because its opening broods in a penitential way.  There’s something miraculous about the way Christophers urges his strings into a straight-tone (non-vibrating) sound that continually flirts with absolute silence. They weave in and out of nothingness while the pulse marches irresistibly on. When Haydn breaks out of the mysterious opening mists, he seesaws between jagged outcries and smooth whispers.  Every note from the orchestra seems to arrive and diminish in just the right way. 

The art of contrast lasts throughout the recording. The vivace at the end of Haydn’s 87th symphony leaps out like a splash in a cold stream, even with all the signature Haydn detours and meltdowns along the way.

And it’s wonderful to hear Handel and Haydn’s concertmaster Aisslinn Nosky teaming up with an old friend, violist Max Mandel, in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante. As Harry Christophers says, the two of them “fire off each other” with passion and humor. The slow movement presages the depth that Mozart would later reach in his concertos and H+H sets the soloists up with a sadness that has a pulsing inevitability about it. The conversation that arises between violin and viola is heartbreaking.

Get to know Aisslinn Nosky, her life as a violinist, and her role with the Handel and Haydn Society in this video:

And get to know Harry Christophers a bit in this WGBH interview with Jared Bowen about a production of Handel’s Semele:

Hear WGBH's Henry Santoro interview Harry Christophers about his final few seasons with Handel and Haydn:

To purchase this recording, and for more information, visit ArkivMusic.