Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Cello Concerto No. 1 in C, Hob. VIIb/1 [22:43]
Cello Concerto No. 2 in D, Hob. VIIb/2 [23:16]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Horn Concerto in E flat major, K447 (arr. Gaspar Cassadó) [18:46]
Norbert Anger (cello)
Dresdner Kapellsoloisten/Helmut Branny
rec. 8-10 May 2016, Lukaskirche, Dresden
QUERSTAND VKJK1619 [65:10]

Like me, you may never have heard of the German cellist Norbert Anger. Aside from his solo and chamber music work, since 2013 he has been leader of the cello section of the Staatskapelle Dresden, and since 2015 has been solo cellist for the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra. His new release of Haydn Cello Concertos puts him up against some formidable competition, in an already crowded playing-field. So, does he bring something fresh to these well-seasoned works?

The first concerto in C major Hob.VIIb/1 was only discovered in 1961 and has become one of the staples of the cello repertory, overtaking the D major Concerto in the popularity stakes for many. I have to say, I’m won over by this performance. The outer movements are sprightly and stylish. In the slow movement Anger avoids a romanticized view like Jacqueline du Pré, favouring a more understated approach. It works well. Whilst his tone isn’t as opulent as some, it is rich, warm and generous of colour.

The D major concerto Hob.VIIb/2 can be problematic at the best of times, and is more difficult to carry off successfully. I find many performances meander and lack direction. Anger and Branny have full measure of this elusive score, fully understanding its more loosely knit structure and keeping the narrative taut and focused. They bring a freshness and spontaneity to the Concerto, securing favourable results. There’s certainly no hint of stale routine. The cadenzas in both concertos are delivered with consummate technical mastery and precision.

Maybe it was lack of demand that prevented Mozart from writing a cello concerto. The Spanish cellist Gaspar Cassadó came to the rescue with this transcription of the Horn Concerto in E flat major, K447, transposed down to D major, offering cellists a ‘new’ concerto. He himself premiered the result in Bucharest in 1930, and thereafter took it into his repertoire. He made various tweaks to Mozart’s original, cutting, adding and re-substituting woodwinds. It is a product of its time, before urtext and historical performance practice made a substantial impact. Around the same period, the cellist made one of his best known transcriptions, a Concerto in A minor for Cello and Orchestra, adapted from Schubert’s Arpeggionne Sonata (1929). Cassadó is not alone in transcribing the Mozart work. Alexander Sandor-Fischer did something similar, retaining the original key signature, for Pablo Casals, who sadly never played it. This version has been recorded on an Everest LP entitled ‘The Rococo Cello’ by Janos Starker with the Castle Hill Festival Orchestra conducted by Maximilian Pilzer (Everest 3257). Although I had initial reservations, not knowing what to expect, Cassadó’s effort works very well, with Norbert Anger’s infectious enthusiasm carrying the day. It is only in the finale, where I have to admit that the horn better portrays the character of the hunt.

Helmut Branny’s sympathetic and inspirational conducting sets the seal on these delightful and captivating performances. Well-recorded, the cello is ideally balanced in the sound-picture. These Haydn Concertos are a match for some of the finest in the catalogue.

Stephen Greenbank

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