Haydn: Cello Concertos (CD review)

Also, Myslivecek: Cello Concerto in C major. Wendy Warner, cello; Drostan Hall, Camerata Chicago. Cedille CDR 90000 142.

Cellist Wendy Warner has produced several very good albums, mainly playing in duets and trios. This time she goes it alone (well, if you don’t count the chamber orchestra behind her), soloing in the cello concertos of Joseph Haydn and Josef Myslivecek. And she not only tackles the project by herself, she goes head to head with some pretty tough recorded competition from Mstislav Rostropovich and, especially, Jacqueline du Pre. Upon direct comparison, Ms. Warner acquits herself well.

Although there are five cello concertos bearing Haydn’s name, there are only two, the ones Ms. Warner plays here, that the composer probably actually wrote. However, for many years scholars had their doubts even about these concertos. They feared the C major Concerto lost until a musicologist found a copy of the score in 1961; and they had suspicions about the authenticity of the D major Concerto until a signed manuscript turned up in 1951.

Anyway, Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) wrote the Cello Concerto No. 1 in C major somewhere between 1761 and 1765. It’s an early work and roughly contemporaneous with his Symphonies Nos. 6, 7, and 8. He wrote the Cello Concerto No. 2 in D major, the more familiar and popular of the two works, about twenty years later in 1783. Although No. 2 sounds obviously more mature and complex, it’s still Haydn, so it’s as delightfully charming as all of his material.

Ms. Warner and Maestro Hall keep things humming along in proper Haydn-like fashion throughout the First Concerto. While the performance may not have quite the sweet, easy flow of du Pre's, it's so close you'd never really know the difference except on direct comparison. Besides, Warner's playing sounds equally spirited and lyrical, and the sound of the new recording is cleaner and clearer. And even though this early concerto may not have the more-serious intentions of the later D major Concerto, it presents some passages that require virtuosic playing, which Ms. Warner negotiates with ease, especially the long, singing Adagio, taken a little quickly but most gracefully.

Ms. Warner ensures that the Second Cello Concerto is always brilliant and expressive with her passion and precision. Equally passionate and precise is the Chicago Camerata, who provide admirably sympathetic support. Again we get a highly melodic second movement, which Warner handles beautifully. Then things come to a close with a playful Allegro, also nicely managed, with Ms. Warner never trying to outrace the composer out the door. The quality of the playing, reading, and sound may be enough to make one almost forget the du Pre recording.

As far as Czech composer Josef Myslivecek’s (1737-1781) Cello Concerto in C major goes, there is no date on the manuscript. Myslivecek was another of those composers who was relatively well known in his lifetime but whose music quickly fell out of favor after his death, to the point where we hardly hear anything about him anymore. His Cello Concerto gives us some indication why both Mozarts, father and son, admired him so much. Because Myslivecek wrote mostly operas and violin concertos, the Cello Concerto is actually an arrangement of a violin concerto. Compared to Haydn's cello concertos, Myslivecek's seems a tad more serious; it also seems a longer time before the cello finally joins in the fun. Yet when it does, Ms. Warner jumps on it with abandon, producing a lively and, perhaps oddly, sensual interpretation. The composer marked the central Adagio "grave," but that shouldn't worry you. It's still light and airy, and Warner's cello playing floats the music gently over us. The final movement, in the cadence of a minuet, is cheerful and bright, Ms. Warner ending the piece on a formal but upbeat note.

The three concertos total about seventy-three minutes, so in terms of content alone, the disc provides good value. The fact that the performances and sound are so very good makes the album almost irresistible.

Cedille producer James Ginsburg and ace engineer Bill Maylone recorded the music at College Church, Wheaton, Illinois in November, 2012. As usual from this source, the sound is excellent, smooth, natural, realistic. Yet there is plenty of transparency in the midrange, air around the instruments, quickness and impact in the transient attack, and a broad range in the dynamics. The cello sounds nicely placed just ahead of the rest of the ensemble, and it never appears strained. It's one of the better-sounding recordings I've heard this year.

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa