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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732 - 1809) Cello Concerto No 1 in C Hob V11b/1 [24.46] (Cadenzas by Benjamin Britten) Cello Concerto No 2 in D Hob V11b/2 [24.36] (Cadenzas by Mstislav Rostropovich)   Mstislav Rostropovich (cello and director).Academy of St Martin in the Fields   Recorded Abbey Road, London. November 15,16 1975 EMI Great Recordings of the Century CDM5 67234 2 [49.34]

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Haydn, Rostropovich, A.S.M. sounds like a winner to me. And it is. As part of their fourth issue in the "Great Recordings of the Century" series EMI have included the 1975 recordings of the two Haydn Cello Concerti which were then (relatively) new. Number 1 in C had been found in the archives in 1961, while the D major had been known for years under an attribution to Anton Kraft, the brilliant cellist in Haydn's own Esterhazy Orchestra until the discovery of the original score in Haydn's hand in 1954 sorted that out. Haydn wrote the two works for Kraft and recordings show what confidence the composer must have had in his soloist.

We can only speculate how the works must have been played in their time. Written for a virtuoso, that is how Rostropovich chooses to play them with the cello always prominent without dominating. He plays with supreme skill but the skill is always subservient to the demands of the music. Even projection, immaculate fingering in all registers and a cello tone you could die for. His judgement and control of the level of sound is impeccable - for instance in the Adagio of the Ist Concerto when one is aware that something is happening in the overall tutti and it becomes the cello playing an immaculately controlled long sustained note which becomes louder until one hears it for what it is.

Haydn seemed incapable of writing anything ugly. The spritely opening to Number 1, a delightful introspective Adagio, and an Allegro Molto which I noted "taken at a helluva lick"(with magnificently controlled accompaniment from the A.S.M.) Splendid suitable cadenzas in this first Concerto were by Benjamin Britten.

The D Major Concerto was written in 1783, some 18 years after its predecessor. Following the traditional three movement format, the opening Allegro Moderato, longer than its equivalent in Number 1 but less obviously ingratiating , it features an (inevitably) challenging cadenza by Rostropovich himself (as did the last movement). Another of Haydn's short but instantly attractive slow movements leads to a vigorous Finale with more magic from a happily integrated ensemble. 'Papa' Haydn would have been happy. Perhaps he is - up there listening.

The disc was remastered in 2000 and sounds fine. The original studio balance was excellent and no 'nasties' have appeared in the updating process.

A quibble? I know that the idea is to revive and restore to the market classic recordings from the archives and retain the contents of the originally issued LP's. But by contemporary standards the time content of the LP becomes short measure on a CD. This disc offers only 49'34". That's not a lot even when it holds the gems on this disc.

One intriguing point. Like the others in the series, the CD shows the cover illustration from the original LP. Reduced though it is, one can read the following:-

"Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields directed by Iona Brown"

No reference to this appears on the CD. My friend and associate, the well-known violinist, Mr. S. Holmes would appreciate information on this matter sent to his Baker Street, London address.


Harry Downey

 Details of the entire Great Recordings of the Century series may be seen here



Harry Downey

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