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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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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 Jon 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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa