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Franz Josef HAYDN (1732-1809)
Cello Concerto No.1 in C major Hob. VIIb:1 (1761-1765) [23:24]
Symphony No.60 "Il Distratto" (1774) [27:57]
Cello Concerto No.2 in D major Hob.VIIb:2 (1782) [23:48]
Quirine Viersen (cello)
Combattimento Consort Amsterdam/Jan Willem de Vriend
rec. Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam, 8-10 February 2006. DDD. DSD. SACD.
ET'CETERA KTC 5251 SACD [75:09]

Quirine Viersen has a fine pedigree as a cellist and as an early music practitioner. As she reveals in her contribution to the liner notes of this hybrid SACD, she studied her instrument first with her father – a cellist in the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra – and later with Heinrich Schiff. Her father imparted to her not only his knowledge of the cello, but also his admiration for one of early music’s pioneers, Nikolaus Harnoncourt.

Of course, pedigree is all very well but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. This particular pudding is delicious.

Viersen proves to be an engaging soloist. She brings great imagination, colour and above all spontaneity to her performances of Haydn’s two cello concertos. Her turns of phrase can be surprising: with an array of subtle shades of colour and dynamics at her disposal no two phrases are the same. She happily deploys vibrato, not indiscriminately but as a targeted colouristic device. This variety makes for riveting accounts of the outer movements of each concerto but does not get in the way in the slower music. Her account of the slow movement of the C major concerto has a wonderful singing quality and her generous legato phrasing in the first movement of the D major is simply ravishing, but not at all overblown.

I like her cadenzas. Both are quite free and perhaps stretch Haydn’s idiom a little too far, but they work. Viersen says they are a blend of the cadenzas used by André Navarra and Heinrich Schiff, with some touches of her own.

For the record, she plays a Giuseppe Guarneri cello from 1715 and a 1860 Pierra Simon bow, which she says "is significantly lighter than the somewhat younger Hill bow that [she] normally use[s]; it seems to demand more impetus and also extremely precise attack and timing". The bow demands, and Viersen supplies.

Jan Willem de Vriend and Combattimento Consort Amsterdam give her elegant support. Their tuning is generally very good, their articulation precise and, in the finale of the C major in particular, they bring out the humour and the element of surprise in Haydn’s score beautifully. The natural horns are very tidy – listen to their polite contribution to the first movement of the D major concerto, for example.

This is tremendously involving Haydn playing. If you want historically informed performances of Haydn’s cello concertos join more traditional accounts in your collection from the likes of Jacqueline du Pré and Mstislav Rostropovich, you will find Viersen’s eminently enjoyable.

The combined playing time of the two cello concertos does not quite reach 50 minutes. To fill out the disc, and provide a chronologically appropriate interlude between the two concertos, Combattimento Consort Amsterdam offer up a performance of Haydn’s Symphony No.60. Travelling players arrived at Esterház in 1774 to entertain the court with a French comedy called Le Distrait. Haydn dutifully composed an overture, a musical finale and interludes to punctuate the acts of the play. He obviously had a lot of fun illustrating the absent-mindedness of the comedy’s main character. More than mere incidental music, and given an Italian title to match the play's French one, Haydn’s theatre piece became a symphony in its own right. With a false ending built into the first movement, a false start and passage of retuning written into the finale, and some lovely music depicting other characters and action in the intervening movements, the piece is almost a tone poem, and brims over with sparkling humour.

Combattimento Consort Amsterdam paces the performance well. Playing is tidy and while the intonation in the violins in the second movement is not always entirely secure, generally tuning is pretty good and ensemble is tight. The presto and the restarted finale have plenty of bustle and excitement. If I have any complaint it is that, as in its recording of Handel's Op.3 Concerti Grossi, Combattimento Consort Amsterdam seems a little too earnest and unable to really let Haydn's jokes hit home hard. This piece can be laugh-out-loud funny, but this performance will make you smirk rather than giggle. It is still enjoyable though, and seen as a generous coupling to Viersen's superb accounts of the cello concertos, its inclusion is welcome.

With detailed booklet notes in English, French and German and excellent recorded sound –sadly only heard by me in normal stereo – this is a disc worth seeking out.

Tim Perry


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