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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers


Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Cello concerto in C major, Hob. VIIb/1 [26:08]
Cello concerto in D major, Hob. VIIb/2 [25:18]
Laszlo Varga (cello)
Bamberg Symphony/Antal Doráti
rec. 1975, Bamberg

Excellently transferred and re-mastered from a Vox Turnabout LP (TVS 34695), these impressive accounts of Haydn’s two Cello Concertos were recorded in May 1975. The Concerto no 2, we are told, is a first European CD release, so very welcome it is. The cellist is the Hungarian-born Laszlo Varga (1924-2014). As a Jew, Varga lost his position in the Budapest Symphony during the Second World War, and was interned in a Nazi labour camp. He eventually emigrated to the USA and, in 1951, was appointed principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic, a position he held for eleven years, succeeding Leonard Rose. Amongst the conductors he worked under were Dimitri Mitropoulos and Leonard Bernstein. In addition to his orchestral work, he forged a solo career and became a distinguished teacher. As a chamber musician he was a member of the Borodin Piano Trio and the Léner String Quartet. He even turned his hand to conducting. He was the all-round musician.

Doráti sets a more stately pace than most in the opening movement of the C major Concerto. Jacqueline Du  Pré’s version is a great favourite of mine and the brisker speed allows the music to flow more, and facilitates a more rhythmical tautness in her playing. Nevertheless, Varga delivers a persuasive and idiomatic reading, with elegant phrasing, especially in the slow movement, where he fuses eloquence with fervent lyricism. The buoyant finale truly smiles and is dispatched by the cellist with energy and élan.

I have never enjoyed the D major Concerto as much as the C major. One reason is that it’s more difficult to bring off successfully. Some performances/recordings seem to meander and lack direction, especially in the lengthy first movement. Both Doráti and Varga understand the structure and architecture of the work, and their performance is one of the most rewarding I’ve heard. Tempi, phrasing and dynamics are judiciously chosen throughout, with Doráti providing the soloist with admirable support. Varga draws a rich, velvety tone from his instrument. The cadenzas he uses in both concertos are unknown to me, and are not acknowledged in the booklet, but are idiomatic and stylistically appropriate.

These are first class fine-sounding transfers in spacious, warm sound. Booklet notes are minimal. I am very grateful to the Antal Doráti Society for making these important recordings available once again.

Stephen Greenbank



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