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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Cello Concertos - Sinfonia concertante

Concerto for cello and orchestra in C (H VIIb,1) [23:07]
Concerto for cello and orchestra in D (H VIIb,2) [22:36]
Sinfonia concertante for violin, cello, oboe, bassoon and orchestra in B flat (H I,105) [20:16]
Ryo Terakado, violin; Hidemi Suzuki, cello; Patrick Beaugiraud, oboe; Marc Vallon, bassoon
La Petite Bande/Sigiswald Kuijken
Recorded February 1998 at the Doopsgezinde Kerk in Haarlem, The Netherlands. DDD
DEUTSCHE HARMONIA MUNDI 74321 935482 [66:02]

Since the end of the 16th century many compositions have been written for the cello. Among them Joseph Haydn's two cello concertos stand out because of their musical quality, expressive qualities and the brilliance of their solo parts. It isn't surprising then that they are frequently performed and recorded. This recording was originally released in 1998 and has been reissued by Deutsche Harmonia Mundi in its budget series 'Splendeurs'. I am not sure this was a good idea.

The cello concertos were written at different moments in Haydn's career. The Concerto in C is from around 1761; the Concerto in D in 1783. It is not quite clear for whom the first concerto was written, but the second was composed for Joseph Kraft, a Bohemian-born cellist, who joined the Esterházy orchestra in 1778. There have always been doubts about whether Haydn was in fact the composer. Anner Bijlsma, in the liner notes to his recording of Haydn's cello concertos , suggests it could be the result of a cooperation between Haydn and Kraft. There can be no doubt, however, that Haydn asked Kraft's advice while composing the work.

In the liner notes, Sigiswald Kuijken states that during the time the Concerto in C was written, the Esterházy orchestra was rather small, with five to eight violins and violas, just one cello, double bass, flute and bassoon and a pair each of oboes and horns. As the manuscript has survived only in single parts for each of the instruments, his conclusion is that the concerto must have been performed with a scoring of one instrument per part. A later manuscript has extra copies for the two violin parts and the bass part, but only for the tutti sections, which means that during the solo passages the cello is accompanied by soloists. And although, at the time the D-major Concerto was written, the size of the orchestra had expanded, Kuijken sees reasons to believe that even here the solo passages should be accompanied one-to-a-part. So what we have here is a contrast between a chamber-like scoring in the solo passages and a double scoring of all parts in the tutti.

Potentially this could result in a very interesting and worthwhile recording, which presents an alternative to most existing recordings. Unfortunately that is not the case. The main reason is that the performance is rather boring. In fact, although these concertos belong to my favourites, and I always like to hear them, I was bored stiff after a while. Not only does the orchestra seem completely uninspired, but - with all due respect - what Hidemi Suzuki is doing here is not making music, but just playing notes. There is no doubt that he is a good cellist, but not a great one. Some passages sound uncomfortable, as if it takes a lot of energy and attention to play all the notes correctly. But what is missing here is rhythmic flexibility, a contrast in dynamics and a differentiated interpretation of the solo part. Not much is left of the wonderful expressiveness of the Adagio of the C-major Concerto. The second Concerto is a little better, but only a little.

This is especially disappointing as the last item on this disc, the Sinfonia concertante, is given a very fine performance. The Sinfonia concertante was a very popular genre in the second half of the 18th century. Many composers wrote pieces of that kind, mostly in two movements, and of a rather light, divertimento-like nature. Haydn's Sinfonia concertante isn't quite comparable with these compositions, though. It was one of the works he composed during his first stay in London, in 1792. At that time a former pupil, Ignaz Pleyel, was working in London, He had written and performed a number of Sinfonie concertanti with great success. It is perhaps this which inspired Haydn to contribute to the genre. The violin part was intended to be performed by Johann Peter Salomon, the German-born violinist and impresario who had invited Haydn to England. This explains the prominence of the violin part, in comparison to the parts for the cello, the oboe and the bassoon. It was performed in London with such great success that it had to be repeated a week later. And I wouldn't mind hearing this performance a couple of times either! In particular Ryo Terakado is impressive in his performance of the violin part. We hear an orchestra of the kind Haydn had at his disposal in London. La Petite Bande is much better than in the two cello concertos, where the lacklustre performance of the soloist seems to have been contagious.

It is a shame that this recording as a whole is so uneven. Recommending this disc for the Sinfonia concertante only is a little unrealistic. For the cello concertos my recommendations would be Anner Bijlsma with Tafelmusik (Deutsche Harmonia Mundi) and Pieter Wispelwey with Florilegium (Channel Classics).

Johan van Veen

 

 



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