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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Cello Concerto in C major, Hob. VIIb:1 (1765) [25:05]
Symphony No. 6 in D major, Hob. I:6 ‘Le matin’ (1761) [24:21]
Keyboard Concerto in D major, Hob. XVIII:11 (1784) [19:34]
Daniel Yeadon (cello); Erin Helyard (harpsichord: concerto)
Australian Haydn Ensemble
rec. December 2015, March 2016, Eugene Goossens Hall, ABC Ultimo Centre, Sydney
ABC CLASSICS 4812806 [69:25]

The Australian Haydn Ensemble (AHE) was formed in 2011, and specialises in historical performance practice. I am embarrassed to say that despite living in Australia until January this year, I had not been aware of their presence. Members of the orchestra have previously been part of ensembles such as the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, Australian, English and Irish Chamber Orchestras, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Berlin Symphony Orchestra. This is their debut recording, and they have appropriately chosen an all-Haydn programme.

As well as wanting to hear this ensemble, the cello concerto was the main reason for asking to review this CD. Haydn’s two cello concertos are among my favourites, and for me, the first masterworks in the genre. There is plenty of competition for this new release with well in excess of seventy recordings. My favourite is Daniel Müller-Schott with the Australian Chamber Orchestra (Orfeo – review), on modern instruments, but with historical performance sensibilities. The soloist on this recording, Daniel Yeadon, is a regular player with the ACO and has performed as soloist with Australia’s best-known authentic instrument ensemble, the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. I am impressed by his playing, as I am with that of the orchestra. It is vibrant and stylish, and not prone to the excesses of certain authentic instrument bands, especially in the past. Tempos are not extreme and the instrument timbres are smooth. As with the Onyx recording with Pavel Gomziakov I reviewed recently (review), a harpsichord is used in the basso continuo role. It is quite prominent in places - the opening to the slow movement, for example. I found it distracting; in places it felt almost like a double concerto. I hadn’t heard this instrument used in this repertoire before the Onyx recording, and thought it quite odd there, given that the orchestra was a modern instrument one. Here, it is more appropriate, though certainly not a common choice: we are after all in the mid-1760s. It is not used on the very period instrument recordings of Christophe Coin, with the Academy of Ancient Music and Christopher Hogwood (L’Oiseau Lyre) and Jean-Guihen Queyras with the Freiburg Baroque (Harmonia Mundi). The booklet notes indicate that in the early 1760s, Haydn led the Esterházy orchestra from the violin, only employing the harpsichord in vocal works, and the choice to include it was “in the pragmatic spirit of the times”. My sense is that the more common approach is the better one, and it is my only concern with this particular performance.

Symphony No. 6 was the first symphony Haydn wrote after joining the Esterházy court, and is an evocation of morning. The beautiful slow opening portrays the sunrise, and then we move into an allegro, complete with birdsong. The harpsichord is employed again here, and is better integrated into the sound of the orchestra than in the concerto. It is a quite delightful work, full of variety, and one imagines Prince Paul Esterházy must have felt rather satisfied with his new “acquisition” when this work was played for the court. Again the AHE is impressive.

I knew in advance that if I was to have a problem with this album, it would be the keyboard concerto. For me, Haydn’s keyboard concertos rank well below his works for cello and trumpet. I have tried to appreciate them: I sought out the highly regarded recording (with piano) by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet (review), but it did not grab me. A second stumbling block, and potentially a larger one, was the choice of instrument here. I am not a fan of the harpsichord, and this one – a French double-manual, made by Andrew Garlick of Somerset, and modelled after a 1749 Goujon – is of the jangly type that must have led to Beecham’s famous barb about the activities of skeletons on tin roofs. I can appreciate the quality of Erin Helyard’s performance, and in the slow movement, the sound of the harpsichord was pleasingly genteel. However, in the faster sections, all I could think of was the Keystone Cops: I fully admit that this is my shortcoming. However, my thoughts about the work itself remain the same: it would be a rare listener who would rank this even near, let alone above, the cello concerto.

The performance hall at the ABC studios in Sydney provides a very natural, warm acoustic, and the notes are well-written and informative. Overall, despite my reservations about the harpsichord, this is a very fine introduction to this ensemble, and I regret not having had the opportunity to hear them in concert.

David Barker



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