Haydn: Cello Concertos (CD review)

Also, Vivaldi: Concerto for Violin and Cello. Christoph Croise, cello; Sherniyaz Mussakhan, violin; Eurasian Soloists Chamber Orchestra. Avie AV2402.

At first blush it may seem incongruous that noted French-German-Swiss cellist Christoph Croise would record pieces by two such seemingly disparate composers as Joseph Haydn and Antonio Vivaldi to pair up on this album. After all, Haydn (1732-1809) is, along with Mozart, probably the most well-known musician of the Classical Period (around 1730-1820), and Vivaldi (1678-1741) is, along with Bach, probably the leading exponent of the Baroque Age (roughly 1600-1760). Yet, upon closer examination we see that Haydn completed his First Cello Concerto relatively early in life, mid 1760's, and Vivaldi wrote his Concerto for Violin and Cello relatively late in life, somewhere in the 1720's. So only about forty years separate the two works. While they may sound different, it's possibly more the result of the compositional styles of their authors than a true reflection of their eras. And, in fact, without Vivaldi and his gazillion concertos, we might not have had a Haydn or Mozart as we know them today in the first place.

Whatever, the program opens with the two Haydn Cello Concertos, No. 1 in C and No. 2 in D. Mr. Croise is accompanied by the Eurasian Soloists Chamber Orchestra, which, according to the Avie Records Web site, was "created in May 2015 by violinists Sherniyaz Mussakhan (Kazakhstan) and Jana Ozolina (Latvia). It consists of young artists, competition winners and soloists already well established on the international classical scene. These musicians, hailing from some ten different Eurasian countries, came together in Switzerland to share their various cultures and schools of performance, believing strongly in the principle that for the most beautiful language in the world--music--there are no borders." The orchestra is small, about seventeen players, and provide Mr. Croise a clean and elegant accompaniment. This greatly complements Croise's obvious joy in the music making.

Christoph Croise
Even though there are five cello concertos bearing Haydn's name, there are only two, the ones we find here, that the composer probably actually wrote. And there were even doubts about these. 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 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.

I mentioned that Croise displays a noticeable joy with this music. There's a spark, an effervescent fizz in his playing, which isn't about mere tempo speed or loudness contrasts. I'm reminded here of action-movie directors who increase the volume of the background score to encourage viewers to believe that things on screen are more exciting than they really are. There is none of that phoniness with Christoph Croise; he's the real deal. He substitutes nuance and élan for theatrics. Yet his playing is clearly virtuosic when necessary and elegant always.

The interpretations hold up as well. They are well integrated, the phrasing well strung together into a coherent whole, the movements all of a piece to produce a wonderfully structured set of notes that flow naturally and effortlessly from beginning to end. It helps, too, that the small Eurasian Soloists ensemble is so accomplished. They hold up their end of the bargain admirably, providing fresh, lively support throughout.

Although the little Vivaldi concerto comes as something of an afterthought following the more intricate-sounding Haydn creations, cellist Croise and violinist Mussakhan offer up an invigorating reading. They play almost as one, each gracing the other's contributions in vigorous conversation. It's a spirited affair and one that will delight any Vivaldi fan.

Engineer Joel Cormier recorded the concertos at Kirche Oberstrass, Zurich, Switzerland in November 2017. As with all of Avie's recordings, this one sounds splendid. Of course, having a small ensemble to work with is going to help in obtaining a transparent sound, but the placement of instruments, the imaging, is also excellent. And the environment is both alive with ambient bloom and given to fine detailing at the same time. The soloist appears admirably well situated within the orchestral context, being neither too close to the listener nor too far away; it's truly an ideal arrangement. Good job, Avie.


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 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 both its equipment and recordings 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 they 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 Marantz CD 6007 and Onkyo CD 7030 CD players, 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