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Johann Adolph HASSE (1699-1783)
Cello Concerto in D major (ca. 1725) [15:26]
Johann Wilhelm HERTEL (1727-1789)
Cello Concerto in A minor (1759) [17:22]
Cello Concerto in A major (1755) [14:05]
Carl Philipp Emanuel BACH (1714-1788)
Cello Concerto in A major, Wq 170/H430 (1750) [23:53]
Musica Viva/Alexander Rudin (cello)
rec. July 2014, May 2015, Mosfilm Tonstudios, Moscow

This is a fascinating programme, with two world premiere recordings – the Hertels – a rarity in the Hasse, and a moderately well-known one in the Bach.

Johann Hasse was best known during his lifetime for his operas, a few of which have been recorded, most recently Siroe, Re di Persia (review). He composed a good body of orchestral works but this is his only known cello concerto. It is a generation older than its discmates, and is very much a Baroque work. It's certainly one of the earliest cello concertos, in Germany or anywhere else. Some of Vivaldi’s cello concertos are a decade earlier, but there aren’t too many others. The booklet notes that this concerto was one of hundreds of cello concertos and sonatas in the collection of Count Rudolf von Schönborn of Wiesentheid, near Würzburg. That is a very intriguing prospect, indeed.

In this Chandos recording, the concerto is in four movements, played without break, in the Italian style of slow-fast-slow-fast. Unusually, the second movement is a fugue. In its only other recording, with the considerable talents of Jan Vogler and Reinhold Goebel (review), the first two movements are merged. Comparing the two performances, Vogler clearly provides more fizz and character than Rudin.

My first encounter with the music of Hertel was a lovely trumpet concerto (in D), played by Håkan Hardenberger on Philips. Hertel was born in Eisenach, where his father, Johann Christian, was director of music at the court. To the best of my knowledge, these are the first two string concertos of his to be recorded. They are very different, but not necessarily in the way you might expect. The minor key one is showy, virtuosic and dramatic, while the major-key is charming and sunny. They show some signs of moving away from the Baroque style, being very much of that transitional era. For me, they are the reason to buy this recording. While they are not long-lost masterpieces, they are well crafted and help to fill in our knowledge of the development of this genre.

The Bach is the most distinctive work here, but then again, one could say that about most of his works. It is a wonderfully vibrant work, for me one of his best. There are in the vicinity of twenty recordings, the most recent by Julian Steckel on Hänssler Classics (review). I have one on period instruments by Hidemi Suzuki on BIS, which is very well regarded. Again, this new recording doesn’t do the work full justice, lacking a little in the way of excitement and characterisation.

Musica Viva, also known as the Moscow Chamber Orchestra, is not a period instrument ensemble, but their performance is certainly historically informed, starting with 415 Hz tuning. These are very crisp, clean performances, which don’t linger on phrases. Alexander Rudin’s cello tone is similarly crisp, though I found it to be a little wiry and nasal in the higher registers. It is certainly not a rich sound, unlike that of Pavel Gomziakov’s Stradivarius in his recent Haydn concerto recording (review). The sound quality and booklet notes are of the usual standard for this label.

As I have mentioned above, I have a sense that these performances lack a little character and feeling. However, this shortfall is well and truly compensated for by the presence of the Hertel concertos.

David Barker