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.
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: