Haydn: Concerti per Esterhazy (CD review)

Violin Concertos No. 1 in C major and No. 4 in G major; Cello Concerto No. 1 in C major. Amandine Beyer, violin; Marco Ceccato, cello; Gli Incogniti. Harmonia Mundi HMM 902314.

There was a time when it seemed that a period-instrument band was performing on every other disc crossing my desk. Maybe it was a passing fad because in past few years I've seen relatively few such recorded performances. So it's refreshing to note they haven't gone away entirely, as evidenced by this Harmonia Mundi release by violinist Amandine Beyer, cellist Marco Ceccato, and the historically informed, period-instrument ensemble Gli Incogniti performing some early works from Joseph Haydn.

Gli Incogniti is a small musical group formed in 2007 to play historically informed performances of mostly Baroque material on period instruments. Their number usually includes about seven performers, although here they are augmented by other performers to double their numbers. (The size of orchestras would increase dramatically over Haydn's lifetime, but the size for which he wrote the concertos on this disc was more in the range of fifteen-to-twenty players.) Ms. Beyer and Mr. Ceccato are members of the original ensemble. The album under review marks their by my count their eighth album.

Amandine Beyer
All three of the concertos on the program date probably from somewhere between 1765-1771, the early classical period. The exact dates are unknown and the approximate dates are educated guesses. Anyway, Haydn (1732-1809) was employed at the time as Kapellmeister by Princes Paul Anton and then Nickolaus, heads of the wealthy Esterházy family. As such, Haydn was in charge of the Esterhazy's orchestra, and he was anxious to impress the princes with his compositional and playing skills. Except for a few miscellaneous concertos for lyre and such that he wrote some twenty years later, it was mainly during the 1760s and early 1770s that Haydn composed concertos for various virtuoso instrumentalists. As his career proceeded, Haydn would increasingly spend his time on the symphony, understandable as he would eventually write 104 of them.

As for the quality of the three concertos, well, there is probably a reason why they have never entered the basic repertoire. This is not to suggest they are boring or trite. Indeed, all three are imaginative and filled with Haydn's usual felicitous touches. It's just that there is little in them that stands out or sets them apart. They are simply good natured, charming, and entertaining. Of course, we also have to remember that they contributed to the early blossoming of the concerto genre, a category that in another quarter century or so would take its place alongside the symphony as a dominant genre of the classical world.

As for the quality of the playing, there is no doubt. Both soloists--Ms. Beyer on violin and Mr. Ceccato on cello--perform splendidly. It is clear that their affinity to this music and their love of it are driving forces in the success of the performances. What's more, it is clear that Gli Incogniti enjoy what they're doing and have done it often enough that it comes through with a precision that does not preclude a joyous spontaneity.

Producer, engineer, and editor Alban Moraud recorded the concertos at the Theatre Auditorium, Poitiers, France in January 2018. Even though the miking distance seems moderate, there is a healthy bloom from the auditorium, helping the sound to appear more lifelike. Yet it does nothing to detract from the detail of the sonics. The solo instruments shine, and the accompaniment is well defined. The stage width is relatively narrow, and the depth is quite good. This is a small group, after all, and their very size ensures a welcome transparency. The balance is about as neutral as one could want, and the whole affair is smooth and comfortable. It's a fine production.

JJP

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



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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 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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine 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 simple-minded, 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 Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. 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 LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. 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.

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