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.
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.