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BARGAIN OF THE MONTH


Classical Cello Concertos
CD1
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)

Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor Wq. 170 (H.432)
Cello Concerto No. 3 in A major Wq. 172 (H.439)
Cello Concerto No. 2 in B flat major Wq. 171 (H.436)
Balázs Máté (cello)
Concerto Armonico/Péter Szüts
On authentic instruments Recording: 1995 Licensed from Hungaroton, Hungary. Brilliant Classics DDD STEMRA 92198/1
CD2
Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)

Cello Concerto in E flat major, No.12 (G deest)
Cello Concerto in G major, No.7 (G 480)
Cello Concerto in A major, No.2 (G 475)
Cello Concerto in C major, No.11(G 573)
Julius Berger (cello)
South-West German Chamber Orchestra, Pforzheim/Vladislav Czarnecki
Recording: 1988, Matthäuskirche, Pforzheim, Germany. Producer: Teije van Geest Licensed from EBS, Germany Brilliant Classics DDD STEMRA 92198/2
CD3
Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)

Cello Concerto in D major, No.6 (G 479)
Cello Concerto in B flat major, No.9 (G 482)
Cello Concerto in C major, No.4 (G 477)
Cello Concerto in D major, No.3 (G 476)
Julius Berger (cello)
South-West German Chamber Orchestra, Pforzheim/Vladislav Czarnecki
Recording: 1988, Matthäuskirche, Pforzheim, Germany. Producer: Teije van Geest Licensed from EBS, Germany Brilliant Classics DDD STEMRA 92198/3
CD4
Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)

Cello Concerto in D major, No.5 (G 478)
Cello Concerto in E flat major, No.1 (G 474)
Cello Concerto in C major, No.8 (G 481)
Cello Concerto in D major, No.10 (G 483)
Julius Berger (cello)
South-West German Chamber Orchestra, Pforzheim/Vladislav Czarnecki
Recording: 1988, Matthäuskirche, Pforzheim, Germany. Producer: Teije van Geest Licensed from EBS, Germany Brilliant Classics DDD STEMRA 92198/4
CD5
Leonardo LEO (1694-1744)

Cello Concerto in D major (L 10)
Cello Concerto in A major (L 20)
Sinfonie concertante for cello and strings in C minor (L 30)
Julius Berger (cello)
South-West German Chamber Orchestra, Pforzheim/Vladislav Czarnecki
Recording: 29-31 May 1999, Kirnbachhalle, Niefern-Öschelbronn, Germany. Producer & engineer: Reinhard Geller Licensed from EBS, Germany Brilliant Classics DDD STEMRA 92198/5
CD6
Leonardo LEO (1694-1744)

Cello Concerto in F minor (L 40)
Cello Concerto in A major (L 50)
Cello Concerto in D minor (L 60)
Julius Berger (cello)
South-West German Chamber Orchestra, Pforzheim/Vladislav Czarnecki
Recording: 5-7 July 1999, Kirnbachhalle in Niefern-Öschelbronn, Germany. Producer & engineer: Reinhard Geller Licensed from EBS, Germany Brilliant Classics DDD STEMRA 92198/6
CD7
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Cello Concerto in D major Hob. VIIb: 2
Cello Concerto in C major Hob. VIIb: 1
Miklós Perényi (cello)
Liszt Ferenc Chamber Orchestra/János Rolla
Recording: 1979 Producer: Zoltán Hézser Licensed from Hungaroton, Hungary. Brilliant Classics ADD STEMRA 92198/7
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92198 [7 CDs: CD1 68:57; CD2 63:26; CD3 72:37; CD4 74:42; CD5 37:21; CD6 44:03; CD7 50:38]

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Brilliant Classics have triumphed again with a super release of eighteenth century cello concertos from C.P.E. Bach; Luigi Boccherini; Leonardo Leo and Joseph Haydn. Entitled ‘Classic Cello Concertos’ this super-budget priced seven CD box set lasts almost seven hours. As usual Brilliant Classics use previously released material and these concertos first appeared on the Hungaroton and EBS labels.

Only a few eighteenth century cello concertos are played regularly today mainly Haydn’s two concertos, a handful of Boccherini’s and more recently some of Vivaldi’s cello concertos which are becoming increasingly popular.

From the early to mid seventeen-hundreds the cello had progressed from an accompanying basso continuo instrument to a melody instrument more than capable of considerable virtuoso display.

The first CD of this release contains the three cello concertos of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, the eldest surviving son of the great Johann Sebastian Bach and the best known of all the sons for his musical prowess. Privileged to receive lessons from his distinguished father and from many of the visiting musicians C.P.E. Bach was a most creative composer who wrote in an original and personal style. The three cello concertos are thought to have been composed around 1750 which was the time of his father’s death, a period which really marked the end of the late-baroque era and the start of the classical period in music.

C.P.E. Bach’s predominately forward-looking music provides a marvellous link between the late-baroque and the classical; often sounding romantic at times and even occasionally quirky. It is both galant and elegant yet expressive and emotional. The exciting headlong rush downwards, the abrupt change of tempo, the unusual use of pauses, surprising dissonances and modulation can be successfully heard in the Allegro assai (CD 1, track 1, point 0:00-3:19) of the A minor cello concerto Wq. 170. C.P.E. composed the concertos in the standard Vivaldi-like fast-slow-fast form. The movements are generally based on the conventional Ritornello form of the baroque, contrasting tutti and solo sections in between. It is interesting how the material that C.P.E. Bach introduces at the beginning of the concertos is used and transformed by the composer in the later sections.

This super-budget box set is worth buying for these C.P.E. Bach versions of the cello concertos alone; the interpretations are really exceptional. Baroque cellist Balázs Máté was born in Budapest and studied at the Franz Liszt Music Academy and the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. A founding member of the Concerto Armonico, Máté is well-respected performer on the European period instrument scene and this must be one of his finest recordings. In the first movement Allegro assai of the concerto in A minor Wq. 170 we can hear the soloist make light work of the considerable virtuoso demands (CD 1, track 1, point 6:18-9:36). His bold tone and expressive poetry throughout the concertos are exceedingly appealing.

I have no hesitation in stating that the interpretations on this Brilliant Classic release played by soloist Balázs Máté with the Concerto Armonico under the direction of Péter Szüts are by any standards the equal of, if not an improvement on, the feted Suzuki version on BIS. The distinguished recording on period instruments from Hidemi Suzuki who directs the Bach Collegium Japan on BIS CD-807 has been given special commendations by eminent music journalists. Soloist Suzuki gives a strikingly glorious performance and the ensemble play with enthusiasm and commitment in an interpretation that I have long admired. However when compared to the Suzuki set on BIS, Máté’s sovereign interpretation gives increased passion and refinement together with an improved tone and the original Hungaroton sound quality is more detailed.

The booklet notes give the incorrect Wotquenne (Wq.) catalogue numbers for two of the three concertos which I have corrected in the header to this review. Curiously the narrative in the booklet notes refer not to these concertos but to C.P.E.’s symphonies.

Italian-born Luigi Boccherini was one of the most prolific composers of his time, a cosmopolitan having lived in Europe’s major Cities: Milan, London, Berlin and Amsterdam. Boccherini was a contemporary of the great composers Haydn and Mozart and was undoubtedly overshadowed. Unfortunately his creativity and pioneering talent are often overlooked. Acclaimed as a cello virtuoso Boccherini was one of the first composers to develop the cello as a separate personality in the medium of the string quartet. Using the traditional three movement Allegro-Adagio-Allegro form which was handed down from the Vivaldi, Tartini school, Boccherini was able to blend virtuoso technique and cantabile harmony.

This Brilliant Classics release contains three CDs of Boccherini’s twelve authentic cello concertos. Not included here is the unauthentic ‘Boccherini Cello Concerto’ as arranged by Friedrich Grützmacher from the concertos G. 481 and G. 482 (publ. 1895) which has been very popular in recordings over the years most notably in versions from Jacqueline du Pré and Yo-Yo Ma. With the exception of the famous Minuet taken from the string quintet in E, Op.13/5 the cello concerto arranged by Grützmacher has been Boccherini’s most popular work. However there are several other real gems of the cello repertoire to be discovered here.

Boccherini often looks forward to the romantic style of composition which can be heard in the extended cello solo part of the Allegro moderato from the concerto No.9 (G. 482) (CD3, track 4, points 5:06-8:39). Boccherini’s gift for lyricism so reminiscent of his contemporaries Mozart and Haydn can be heard to great advantage throughout the final movement Rondo, allegro (CD 3, track 6, point 0:00-1:17).

German soloist, Julius Berger, Music Professor at Mainz University, has recorded all the works that Boccherini composed for cello and clearly has a special affinity with this music, showing a real sense of engagement which is most impressive throughout. Berger’s sensitivity of phrasing and beauty of tone is striking. His control of Boccherini’s main melodies and embellishments is impressive. A really fine example of Berger’s superb solo playing and Boccherini’s almost symphonic writing can be heard in the Finale of the concerto No.3 in D major (G.476) (CD 2, track 12, points 3:55-4:10). Berger is ably assisted in this concerto with sensitive and polished accompaniments from the South-West German Chamber Orchestra using modern instruments under Maestro Vladislav Czarnecki. The EBS engineers have done a marvellous job with a beautiful sound which is both clear and well-balanced.

The fifth and sixth discs on this Brilliant Classics box set are works by the late-baroque composer Leonardo Leo. Leo was one of the leading Neapolitan composers of his day mainly composing prolifically in the genres of opera, dramatic works and sacred music. The melody of Leo’s music is fluid, refined and dignified, with clear and coherent harmony. However Leo makes little attempt at romantic expression and his music is rarely passionate. There is a considerable amount of serenity in the slow movements which give this listener a sense of watching clouds floating by on a calm and balmy day.

Leo’s instrumental works form only an extremely small proportion of his total output although the concerto for four violins and basso continuo, in D major is becoming increasingly better known. The six cello concertos were composed in 1738-39 in response to an assignment from the Duke of Maddaloni. If the Duke commissioned the six concertos for himself to perform he must have been a most able cellist as the cello part is relatively demanding. Although not varying in form, the third concerto (L.30) unlike the five others is curiously titled a ‘Sinfonia Concertata’ not cello concerto. Five of the cello concertos have four movements in the Andante-Allegro-Largo-Allegro form with the exception of the D major concerto (L.10) which has an additional penultimate Fuga movement.

As with the Boccherini concertos, the performers on the Leo cello concertos are the outstanding partnership of cellist Julius Berger and the South-West German Chamber Orchestra, under Maestro Vladislav Czarnecki. Berger proves to be a most effective and sensitive soloist in these warm and sweet concertos that overflow with beautifully turned and extensive lines. He allows the cello to soar beautifully upwards to the heavens as demonstrated in the wonderful Larghetto of the D major concerto (L. 10) (CD 5, track 3, point 0:43-2:40). Berger certainly does justice to Leo’s lyrical passages, playing with expression and nobility; displaying an opulent tone, a fine example of which can be heard in the Largo e grazioso of the F minor concerto (L. 40) (CD6, track 3, points 0:44-3:54).

The sound quality from the EBS sound engineers on the recording is ideal, complementing the soloist, the accompaniment and Leo’s music. However the timings are not over-generous at thirty-seven minutes for CD 5 and forty-four minutes for CD 6.

A high proportion of the prodigious compositional output of Joseph Haydn remains unfamiliar to the vast majority of classical music lovers. Many dozens of his operas, concertos, symphonies, sonatas, songs and works for now obsolete instruments remain unheard as their worth has not transcended their time and context. Perhaps the two cello concertos on this Brilliant Classics release are the exception to the rule in Haydn’s output as they remain popular both on the concert platform and in the recording studios.

My latest thematic catalogue of Haydn’s works contain six cello concertos, two are authenticated, two are lost and the credentials of another two are spurious. Both the two authenticated cello concertos on this release have chequered histories.

The ’Great’ D major cello concerto No. 2 was often played as a work of Haydn but many people considered it to be a composition by Anton Kraft who was the principal cellist from 1778 in Prince Esterhazy’s court orchestra. Finally the concerto was authenticated when Haydn’s autographed score dated 1782 was discovered in the cellars of the Austrian National Library in 1953. The concerto has been said to be the most symphonic of all Haydn’s concertos and makes tremendous technical demands of the soloist.

Haydn’s C major cello concerto was composed between 1761-65 predating the D major concerto by twenty or so years. It seems likely that the concerto was intended for Joseph Franz Weigl the principal cellist in the early years of the Esterhazy court orchestra. It is listed in Haydn’s own thematic catalogue but was lost for many years until the manuscript parts were discovered in the Prague National Museum in 1962. The first modern performance of the C major concerto was given in 1962 and is now considered part of the core cello repertoire. Both Rostropovich in 1964 and Jacqueline du Pré three years later recorded famous and very warmly romantic versions.

Budapest-born cello soloist Miklós Perényi is a Professor at the Ferenc Liszt Music Academy and has a close working partnership with eminent pianist Andras Schiff. Perényi has collaborated on many occasions with the Liszt Ferenc Chamber Orchestra under their director and founding member János Rolla. Perényi is a fine cellist eminently suited to this classical repertoire whilst Maestro Rolla’s accompaniments are stylish and most sympathetic. In the closing movement Allegro of the D major concerto I particularly like how expertly and endearingly the soloist interprets the lyrical episodes that follow the folk-song-like introduction and the refined control of the virtuoso passages (CD 7, track 3, point 0:21-5:11). Perényi’s smoothness of tone and phrasing is impressive, especially throughout the long lines of the serenade-like melodies of the central movement Adagio of the C major concerto which he plays with poetry and sensitivity.

This recording of the two Haydn cello concertos was made in 1979. It is the only CD in this Brilliant Classic boxed set that is not a digital recording and the sound quality from the Hungaroton engineers is not in the same league as the other six. Although acceptable, the sound is not as detailed as the digital recordings. By comparison the soloist seems to be placed further back into the body of the orchestra and is more difficult to hear.

Excellently performed works with many gems waiting to be discovered. I have commented on one or two small deficiencies but there is nothing here to deter even the most discerning buyer. The slim and compact packaging is simple, yet attractive, utilising card slip-cases. This seven CD box set at super-budget price from Brilliant Classics is an absolute steal. Highly recommended.

Michael Cookson

 



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