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Luigi BOCCHERINI (1743-1805)
Cello concerto in D, G.479 [18:07]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Cello concerto in c, RV401 [10:26]
Concerto for two cellos, RV531 [11:34]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Cello concerto No. 1 in C, Hob. VIIb:1 [22:50]
Asier Polo (cello)
Mercedes Ruiz (cello 2: Vivaldi)
Orquesta Barroca de Sevilla
rec. 2019, Espacio Turina, ICAS, Seville
IBS CLASSICAL IBS52020 [62:58]

Spanish cellist Asier Polo is a new name to me. The booklet notes indicate that he has worked with many major orchestras across Europe and beyond, and his website shows at least a dozen recordings, including a few appearances on the Naxos Spanish Classics series.

From the first bar of the Boccherini, it is clear we are in the world of historically informed practice, with its dynamic tempos and crisp, almost stark, string tone – no warm vibrato here. In the past, this approach did not endear itself to me, and I still have a problem with some of the more extreme practitioners. However, artists such as Fabio Biondi with Europa Galante and Paul Dyer with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra have convinced me otherwise. Having recalibrated my ears to this sound world, I was caught up in the verve and energy, so different to the smooth Boccherini that one hears very often. The only other recording of this concerto that I have is by Tim Hugh and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra on Naxos, which sounds very straight, bordering on bland, by comparison. The finale absolutely sparkles, with the dynamic variations in the orchestra and the virtuosic playing by Polo. Also prominent is the utterly glorious sound produced by Polo’s 1689 Ruggeri instrument – the best sounding cello I have ever heard.

Vivaldi, with Biondi et al., was where I began to appreciate the HIP approach, and Polo and the Sevillians continue to dazzle here in both concertos, perhaps even more so than the Boccherini. However, that dazzle is not a superficial one – these are not showy works, especially the double concerto which features a slow movement, where the two cellos entwine in what I have seen described as mourning with what is effectively only a basso continuo – harpsichord and cellos – as accompaniment. Again the finale is a cracker. I have only one other version of each of the concertos. In RV401, Ofra Harnoy, in a decidedly non-HIP performance, does not sound bland by comparison, but certainly lacks the vibrancy. In RV531, Polo and Ruiz are up against Europa Galante, for whom my admiration in Vivaldi knows no bounds, so it will say something about this recording that it holds its own easily, and the sound quality is much better.

Of the four works presented here, the Haydn is the one I know best. My favourite version is that of Daniel Mūller-Scott and the Australian Chamber Orchestra (Orfeo – review), which combines the best elements of modern and historical practices. A more direct comparison is that of Jean-Guihen Queyras and the Freiberg Barockorchester (Harmonia Mundi – review), which also impressed me. This new version is the quickest version in all three movements, by a minute or more in each movement compared to the Queyras version. Given that the Freibergers are often known for their rapid tempos, this would suggest that Polo tears through Haydn’s graceful writing without a backward glance, but that isn’t so. Objectively, you known that the Adagio is being taken more quickly, but it doesn’t feel that way as Polo and the orchestra provide all the gravitas that one needs. Once we hit the finale, and I know I’m sounding like a broken record here, the quicker tempo leaves you breathless and thrilled.

It will be very obvious by now I am very impressed by the playing of Asier Polo, and the glorious Ruggeri which he is so fortunate to have at his disposal. It is possible that I am even more impressed by the Orquesta Barroca de Sevilla, led so brilliantly by Andrés Gabetta, a formidable soloist in his own right, and brother of renowned cellist Sol Gabetta, which might help explain his instinct for melding the sound of his players with that of the soloist. The sound is exceptionally natural: well-balanced and very immediate. At times, especially in the Vivaldi, one hears some intakes of breath, but they aren’t that distracting. The booklet notes have some odd phrasings in the English translation, but do their job.

Just how good this is has rather taken me by surprise. Without doubt, it will be in my Recordings of the Year, and I very much hope to hear more of Asier Polo and Orquesta Barroca de Sevilla, either separately or together. More Vivaldi or some CPE Bach would be very welcome, as well as the second Haydn concerto.

David Barker

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