Eso much appreciated today, these two fiery concertos for cello and cello by Haydn have long been the “sleeping beauties” of the repertoire: the first was unearthed only in 1961 by a librarian of the National Museum in Prague, the second wrongly attributed to its dedicatee, Anton Kraft, until the Viennese autograph score was rediscovered in 1954.
Both are so well-marked that one can’t help but wonder if regular performances wouldn’t have inspired mozart and Beethoven compose for cello and orchestra. the Concerto in C was probably written for the cellist Joseph Weigl in Haydn’s early years as Kapellmeister of the Court of Esterházy and radiates good humor. The more spacious and virtuosic Concerto in D major (1783) has a grandly eloquent opening movement on a symphonic scale, and ends with a soft ornate rondo.
The best recordings of Haydn’s Cello Concertos 1 & 2
Steven Isserlis (cello)
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Roger Norrington (1996)
Sony Masters 88697704462
Haydn Cello Concertos seem to bring out the best in musicians, meaning that few truly mediocre recordings have been made. Whether a soloist adopts a configuration of gut strings and a classical 18th century bow, or modern steel strings and a high bridge, the scores seem to take flight, provided the orchestra – just strings, with oboe and horns in the first concerto, flute and bassoon added in the second – is sufficiently small and flexible. Perhaps the solution is a compromise between ancient and modern, which can be found in Steven Isserlis’s (pictured) sparkling account of 1998 on gut strings with the non-period instrument Chamber Orchestra of Europe under Roger Norrington.
Freshness and humor punctuate these performances. Isserlis produces a wonderfully characterful, guttural, penetrating and nervous sound, bringing an impressive palette of textures to his part. d’Isserlis cadences are irresistibly mischievous, delightfully and skillfully given: one cannot help but think Haydn would have approved. The Concerto in D major had long been known in a brutally edited 19th-century version by François-Auguste Gevaert. When, in the 1960s, original editions appeared, its first movement acquired the reputation of being too long and slow. Isserlis dispenses with such doubts, bringing a persuasive sense of direction to each of his mergers. cantable sentences. The Sinfonia Concertante in B flat forms the program, giving us a complete picture of musical life in Esterházy.
VSChristophe Coin (cello)
Academy of Early Music / Christopher Hogwood (1982)
Decca/L’Oiseau-Lyre 478 0025
Haydn’s concert works benefited greatly from the balance and lightness offered by period instruments and a less sustained approach to phrasing. These concertos need to bubble with vitality and grace, and that’s exactly what we get from the Academy of Early Music, playing lower than the others recommended here. The academy strings bring a crackling, fire-dappled texture, while Christoph Coin’s performance draws on his expertise as a gamba player and baroque cellist: a sparkling singsong line, shimmering with high harmonics; sparing use of vibrato; and a perfectly articulated bow that has a violin-like delicacy. In each concerto he offers his own beautifully idiomatic and playful cadenzas complemented by two anonymous 18th-century cadenzas in the finales.
Tatjana Vassiljeva (cello)
Royal Chamber Orchestra of Wallonia/Augustin Dumay (2012)
Mirare MIR 220
Here is a reading of dazzling elegance and luminous transparency by this young Russian cellist, supported by the limpid strings of Augustin Dumay’s chamber orchestra. Some might find Tatjana Vassiljeva’s approach lacking in manliness, but her lively, understated performances are undeniably charming, and the slow movements are particularly touching. His instrument, with a modern set-up, has a radiant treble but a particularly dark bass resonance adds to its range. She adopts new cadenzas from her colleague, pianist Jean-Frédéric Neuberger, in both concertos, which are witty without drawing unnecessary attention to themselves. the allegro of the first concerto is one of the fastest ever recorded, and the D major first movement benefits from a tight focus, aided by a supple and intimate sense of ensemble.
Mstislav Rostropovich (cello)
Academy of St Martin in the Fields (1975)
NDE 678 7232
The legendary “big beast” of the cello world is surprisingly light on its feet in these playful tales, with scintillating support from the ASMF. He lends penetrating musculature to the line and real weight to the double and low strings, but his heroic style is driven by irrepressible good humor rather than misplaced romanticism. The two slow movements have an expressive weight sometimes lacking in more “authentic” modern performances. Britten’s cadences in the Moderato Concerto No. 1 have a strangely Soviet flavour, while that of Rostropovitch in No. 2 is mediocre. Its octave shifts in the latter’s finale are quite murky, but other technical feats are deftly accomplished. An undeniably powerful performance.