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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Cello Concerto in C, Hob.Viib:1 [25:05]
Symphony No. 6 in D, “Le Matin”, Hob.I:6 [24:21]
Harpsichord Concerto in D, Hob.XVIII:ii [19:34]
Daniel Yeadon (cello)
Erin Helyard (harpsichord)
Australian Haydn Ensemble/Skye McIntosh
rec. 16 & 19 December 2015 (Harpsichord Concerto), 21-24 March 2016 (Cello Concerto & Symphony), Eugene Goossens Hall, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Sydney
ABC CLASSICS 481 2806 [69:25]

This is the debut disc of the Australian Haydn Ensemble, which Skye McIntosh founded in 2011. According to the booklet, this is one of Australia’s leading period-instrument ensembles, and it certainly takes its period instrument credentials very seriously indeed, rejoicing in the thin and somewhat desiccated sound, which was such a feature of period-instrument ensembles a few decades back, but which has, in recent times, become less frequently heard on disc as these ensembles now favour a generally warmer and more robust sound. But there will be many who enjoy this clear, uncluttered and direct style of playing, and Skye McIntosh certainly leads by example, presenting a violin sound which while at times thin to the point of fragility, encompasses a generous dynamic range, made all the more impressive by the almost transparent quality of the orchestral textures. On this disc the ensemble numbers around 20 players in a 4+3+3+3+1 string formation.

The soloist for the Cello Concerto in C, Daniel Yeadon, is the ensemble’s principal cellist, so it is only to be expected that his style of playing and musical outlook perfectly matches that of the ensemble as a whole. The result is a very fine performance of the Concerto, with more a sense of partnership and mutual support between soloist and ensemble than one of dialogue. A light and discreet continuo from harpsichordist Neal Peres Da Costa offers the most subtle of support to the solo lines. The first two movements pass uneventfully, but McIntosh leads off into the finale at such a galloping pace, whipped on by percussive downbeats, that the whole thing takes on the character of a hunting field chase. At times Yeadon seems to struggle to keep his head above water, and there are moments in the extended bouts of semiquaver passagework around 3:30 where he seems about to come unstuck; luckily he never does.

It might have made for a pleasing uniformity of tonality, had the recording included Haydn’s D major Cello Concerto rather than the C major one, but the thinking behind this programming seems to be that Joseph Weigl, for whom the C major Concerto was written, was the cellist for whom Haydn also wrote the substantial cello solos in the Symphony “Le Matin”. So it makes for a nice touch of authenticity for Yeadon to be leading the cello section of the orchestra in this recording. There is a very good sunrise crescendo at the start of the Symphony, even if, with the shallow orchestral sound, this sun rises through a thin mist; this is a winter’s sunrise with little heat behind it rather than one presaging the full blaze of a summer’s day.

The clarity of sound is the most obvious thing here, and the small wind flurries emerge effortlessly from the heart of the ensemble - notable among these are the chirping theme of the 1st movement from the enchanting Baroque flute of Melissa Farrow and the robust horn calls from Darryl Poulsen and Dorée Dixon - but McIntosh’s delicate dynamic shading also gives the whole Symphony a pleasing freshness and vitality. As in the Cello Concerto, a tendency to kick out downbeat accents becomes a little annoying in the fast movements.

More concerning to me is the move from harpsichord to organ for the Symphony’s slow movement. This gives this a somewhat churchy feel, which I’m not at all sure suits the musical context. But more than that, I question the legitimacy of the organ’s use here. The booklet suggests it is legitimised by a comment that Haydn “gave the tempi from the organ” in a concert in Oxford, which “included symphonies”; but that hardly serves as a ringing endorsement for its use here. However, it does make for a most interesting overall effect, especially in the deliciously pattering staccato chords which beautifully underpin McIntosh’s flights of idyllic violin fantasy, following in the footsteps of Haydn’s own violinist Luigi Tomasini. The bubbly bassoon solo in the trio of the 3rd movement is superbly played here by Simon Rickard, and it is not really his fault that the steam seems to run out of this passage as it progresses; McIntosh’s great big rallentandi are difficult to negotiate in the context of a performance which otherwise has such a strong sense of forward momentum.

Questions of legitimacy again surface in the keyboard concerto. All the evidence seems to point to this work having been conceived for the early piano; notably that in the possession of a certain Mademoiselle Hartenstein. The novelty of a new instrument possibly explains Haydn’s return to a genre, he had all but abandoned some time earlier, while the central movement seems to demand the kind of dynamic shading only possible on the piano. Certainly, as Erin Helyard points out, it was originally published for either harpsichord or piano, but we all know that publishing expediency sometimes overrules musical intentions, and nothing in this performance convinces me that the harpsichord is a better choice of instrument for this concerto than the fortepiano.

These matters aside, Helyard gives a fluent and rhythmically compelling account, the chattering left hand chords of the first movement propelling it along like the throb of an outboard motor. The harpsichord used is a pretty hefty affair – two manuals built in 1996 by Andrew Garlick of Somerset and modelled on a French instrument of 1749 – and Helyard uses its full resources to add plenty of colour and variety to this performance, while cleverly making use of touch in the central movement to imitate the sustaining effect of a modern piano. As in the Cello Concerto McIntosh drives the finale along at an absolutely cracking pace, but Helyard releases the pressure with some well-placed breathing points, and the sense of Gypsy music (to which Helyard refers in his booklet notes) is brilliantly evoked in the often fiery changes of speed and musical direction, aided by the impressive response and agility of the Australian Haydn Ensemble.

Marc Rochester
Previous review: David Barker



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