It was a joy and an honour to record Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante - such a beautifully crafted masterpiece with those memorable, elegant and distinctive themes in the first movement and both soloists weaving in and out of symphonic textures, the remarkable poignancy of the second movement with its dramatic dialogue which is then dispersed by sheer delight and comic playfulness in the Presto.
Delving into these moods was personally enriching and helped me gain a little bit more insight into Mozart's genius and being. Pavlo and I had the extreme good fortune to play a Strad each! Generously loaned to us by the Royal Academy of Music for this project, we savoured every minute of having these esteemed and valuable instruments in our hands! 'Mine' is a proud instrument which demands careful negotiation and warming before it will expose it's beautiful colours. An amazing experience in itself to play an instrument like this, it was even more of an event when the two Strads met and 'spoke' to each other with a feeling of being acquainted, perhaps not for the first time...
The two Haydn concertos are of a different era and have a completely different feel. Composed around fifteen years earlier at the court in Esterhazy where Haydn lived and worked away from the hubbub of musical life, and written for the leader Luigi Tomasini (who must have been good at his double stops and arpeggios), they are both charming pieces which have brilliance and are a joy to play. Even though written with only string accompaniment, there are many colours expressed here; sweet tunes in the high registers of the violin with 'bottomless' accompaniments and energetic dialogues between rhythmic and melodic figures, an ethereal slow movement in the C major Concerto (which I think every violinist must play - it gives you an impression of what it might be like to soar in heaven...), and bouncy invigorating finales.
I played my own Pesarinius violin (1739) for these concertos, which I felt suited the earlier style of these compositions.
If we imagine Mozart as a performer, we usually see him at the harpsichord or fortepiano, and rightly so. Mozart was a gifted keyboard player, though not a great virtuoso, and indeed he had an aversion to empty virtuosity. But from childhood, Wolfgang was brought up by his father as a double talent, playing both harpsichord and violin, and it was as a violinist that he gained his first appointment. At the early age of thirteen, Mozart became unpaid concertmaster of the court orchestra of the Archbishop of Salzburg, where his father Leopold was assistant chapelmaster. Even as a young child, Mozart could hardly bear the shrill sound of the violin from nearby, and he requested permission to conduct the court orchestra from the harpsichord. To no avail.
Nevertheless, the violin occupied Mozart considerably in the period 1773-77, and he often performed on the instrument himself, encouraged, of course, by his father. Leopold was probably also the driving force behind Wolfgang's Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major for violin and viola (KV 364). He advised his son to master this genre for public concerts; organisers were keen to programme it, since the sinfonia concertante offered audiences the attractive spectacle of rivalling soloists.
It may well be that Wolfgang performed the Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major with his father in Salzburg. It was there that Mozart completed the piece in the summer or early autumn of 1779. Right from the start there is a peculiarity about the sound of the viola. It is tuned a semitone higher than normal, sounding more brilliant and easing the double stopping for the player. Remarkably, the sunny mood usually associated with the genre is absent, and the Andante in C minor is even rather sad and plaintive. This is sometimes believed to reflect painful experiences during the composer's journeys with his mother in 1777-78. In Mannheim, Munich and Paris he feverishly looked for commissions, but found only negative reactions. He fell in love with the beautiful singer Aloysia Weber, the sister of his later wife Constanze, but was rejected. In the meantime, Leopold pressurised him by letter: "Come on, make sure you get to Paris!". To make matters even worse, Wolfgang's mother died in Paris. In a most moving letter, Mozart informed his father of her death: "My dearest father...". This is the background to the wonderful Sinfonia Concertante in E flat major KV 364 by Mozart.
Meanwhile, Mozart's great example, Joseph Haydn, was passing his days as court chapelmaster to one of the wealthiest noble families in Hungary, the Esterházys. The two composers had not yet met - an event that took place only in 1781 in Vienna - but they followed one another from a distance, and acquired each other's music.
Thanks to the excellent musicians in Haydn's court orchestra, there was no end to the opportunities offered. Several players were virtuosic and ambitious, such as the first violinist Luigi Tomasini and the cellists Joseph Weigl and Anton Kraft. Indeed, Haydn composed most of the approximately 45 concertos for various instruments while he was employed by the Esterházy family, and particularly in the period 1760-70.
Luigi Tomasini was one of hundreds of Italian musicians who studied in their homeland and then travelled across the Alps to become orchestral musicians or virtuosi at the many courts of the European nobility. In 1761, Tomasini was concertmaster of the court chapel at Eszterháza, a post directly under the chapelmaster, and was therefore in a position to write his own violin concertos, which he did twice. His personality and playing inspired Haydn, who was apparently greatly impressed by Tomasini's warm tone and brilliant technique, to compose specially for him.
Of the three violin concertos composed by Haydn in the 1760s, that in C major was certainly written for Tomasini, and the score bears the words "Concerto for violin, written for Luigi". It rather looks as though Haydn went out of his way to please his Italian concertmaster with all sorts of musical references to his homeland. The work is still very Baroque. The dotted rhythms (long-short-long-short) and long triplet passages (little groups of three notes like a string of beads) seem to have crept in from a concerto by Vivaldi. The middle movement is like a serenade, a sort of Italian aria without works, with a long-spun melody for the solo violin accompanied by plucked strings - another touch of Vivaldi. In the final movement, Tomasini goes to town in all sorts of technical tours de force, such as complicated double stopping (intervals of a tenth) and virtuosic bowing (spiccato).
All three violin concertos are scored for strings, and only the concerto in A major has two oboes and horns added. Haydn may well have written all three for Tomasini, even though this is only mentioned in the C major concerto. Those in C and G are probably the earliest, dating from 1761-1765, and that in A is the youngest, probably written between 1765-1770. The three works have in common certain Baroque features, such as frequent dotted rhythms and sequences, and the traditional block-like alternation of solo passages and full orchestra.