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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Concerti per Esterházy
Violin Concerto in C major, Hob. VIIa:1 [17:03]
Cello Concerto in C major, Hob. VIIb:1 [23:12]
Violin Concerto in G major, Hob. VIIa:4 [17:40]
Amandine Beyer (violin)
Marco Ceccato (cello)
Gli Incogniti
rec. 2018, Théâtre Auditorium, Poitiers, France
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM902314 [58:01]

I have reviewed recordings by these performers a number of times, so I knew what I was in for: quite driven historically informed performances. My first encounter was a Couperin disc and I remarked at the time that their sound took a while to adapt to, being at times quite strident and tiring, but that there was a splendid togetherness among the players (review). I was less enthused by certain aspects of their Four Seasons release (review) but quite enjoyed cellist Marco Ceccato’s contribution to a disc of Italian Baroque cello sonatas (review). In fact, it was Ceccato’s performance that convinced me to request this new release. How wrong I was!

The two cello concertos of Haydn are among my favourite works – what a shame there is a third that is lost – but the violin concertos I have found to be less inspired. As it turns out, the performances here produce the opposite response in me. I found the violin concertos to be quite enjoyable, imbued with a vitality that enriched them, while the cello concerto was so hard driven to become unlistenable.

Let’s go with the positives first. The violin was Haydn’s instrument, so it is surprising to me that the five concertos he wrote for it are not more memorable, when compared with those for cello and trumpet. I haven’t heard too many alternative recordings, but I would suggest that, unless you are totally allergic to HIP, you will not hear better than these. All the elements that I associate with Haydn: grace, humour, lightness – are here in spades. Nothing is rushed, but nor does the momentum ever lag. The G major concerto strikes me as being closer to the cello concertos in quality, due in no small part to the performers. All this makes what I’m about to say about the cello concerto so much more surprising and disappointing.

So to the cello concerto and while I could write one word “dreadful” and leave it at that, that would not be appropriate. It is as though not just the soloist has changed but the entire outlook on Haydn. All the elements mentioned above are thrown out the window and replaced with hard edges, driving rhythms and exaggerated dynamics. The third movement is particularly extreme – I’ll own up now and say that I couldn’t actually listen all the way through it, and I tried three times. The concerto opens happily enough, though certainly the soundworld is more as I’d expected from earlier Gli Incogniti recordings, but once Mario Ceccato enters, the problems begin. Recently I attended a show by the British comedian Bill Bailey, himself a fine musician. At one point he was making fun of death metal “music”, and while I realise it is more than a slight exaggeration, Ceccato’s performance brought Bailey’s antics to mind. For those of you unacquainted with this genre, it makes Deep Purple seem like The Carpenters. Timings aren’t the whole story here (or anywhere), but when more than a minute and a half are shaved off compared with another HIP recording on Harmonia Mundi – Jean-Guihen Queyras & the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra (review) – you might start to see where I am coming from. However, you may find Ceccati's hard-driven playing thrilling, but I do urge auditing samples before purchase, especially the finale, but you will need to find a source that gives you more than the first 30 seconds.

I have no qualms about the production standards, but I would not have expected otherwise with this label. The recording is quite exceptional, indeed as good as I can remember in this type of music; the notes are well-researched and informative.

I shall be keeping this on my hard drive for the violin concertos, as I don’t expect to find another recording that will give them as much life. As for the cello concerto, where’s that Delete button?

David Barker



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