INKPOT#76 CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: HAYDN Cello Concertos. Coin/Academy of Ancient Music/Hogwood (Decca/L’Oiseau-Lyre)
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)Cello Concerto No.1 in C major, Hob. VIIb:1 Cello Concerto No.2 in D major, Hob. VIIb:2
Christophe Coin violoncello (Reinhard Ossenbrunner 1982 after M.Goffriller c.1750) The Academy of Ancient Music conducted by Christopher Hogwood
DECCA/L’Oiseau-Lyre 414 615-2 [49:23] full-price (but see below)
by Benjamin Chee
This album is ‘somewhat’ dated (1985) and at fifty minutes running time, without fillers, could be considered rather short measure to expect one to pay full price.
Now that we’ve gotten the detractions out of the way, readers should be advised that the original L’Oiseau Lyre cover (right) has been deleted and a new look reissued under the Decca label, as part of Decca’s ethnic brand cleansing of the beloved pheasant silhouette from its products. This is all the more curiouser given that Decca have, in fact, retained the catalog number and price.
Given the age of this recording, it comes as something of a mystery that these performances haven’t been withdrawn from the catalogue altogether instead of getting a cosmetic face job, and reissued in an alternate guise – possibly even as a budget-priced Double with the other AAM/Hogwood Haydn string and wind concertante works dating from the same recording period.
But while we’re still waiting for that to happen, this nonetheless remains a critical – albeit extravagant – issue; indeed, one in contention as a first-choice recording when it initially appeared, and still remains more than a match for latter-day versions with great tenacity. The major reservation here is the style of the performance, which follows authentic “period” practices that modern listeners (as certain rumours persist) might be unaccustomed to.
Inktroduction to Haydn’s Cello Concertos
I’ve heard that these works weren’t discovered till quite recently. Yes. The C major concerto was considered lost for good until the manuscript parts were discovered in Prague in 1962 by a librarian in the national museum. The D major concerto, on the other hand, was for many years thought to be the work of Haydn’s principal cellist, Anton Kraft, before contrary evidence showed up.
So how do we know Haydn really wrote them? The C major concerto was identified and authenticated by a thematic entry which Haydn made in his Entwurf-Katalog that referred to a Concerto per il violoncello in C that matched the rediscovered manuscript parts. The D major concerto was authenticated after the autograph manuscript turned up in the cellars of the Austrian National Library which was found to be signed and dated by Haydn.
Wow. How did so many things happen all at once? Ironically, this can be traced to the inception of Communist governments in Hungary and Czechoslovakia after World War II. In Hungary, the Ezterhzy Archives were opened to the public, which turned up a lot of unpublished Haydn music. A complete archive of Haydn works was also found at Kescthely Castle on Lake Balaton, southwest of Budapest. All this music was confiscated by the Communist government and taken to the National Museum in Prague. Scholars were then admitted to catalogue and examine these manuscripts, which turned up, among other Haydn works, the C major concerto in 1962.
The first modern performance of the work took place later the same year at the Prague Spring Festival on 19 May 1962, with Milos Sadlo as soloist and Charles Mackerras conducting the Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra.
There is, however, a lot to be said for the vicissitudes of a period performance style a la mode; Hogwood and his young French accomplice Christophe Coin give a very pointed, incisive reading of the music that sounds feliticious without being wilful. There is a sunny illumination right from the opening tutti of the C major concerto, giving the impression as if one was hearing the work for the first time. After the well-manicured ensemble states the opening theme, the soloist replies with equal noblissimente, oozing aristocracy and swagger with great aplomb that infects the listener with the joie de vivre of Haydn at his lyrical best.
The thinner, reedy timbre of the vibrato-less strings and supporting woodwind have a very realistic ambience, the recording being made in Kingsway Hall. Even the bouncy tinkling of the harpsichord, from which Hogwood directs, can be aurally separated from the ensemble – helped, no doubt, by the individual timbres of each of the authentic instruments (as opposed to the well-tempered sonority of modern instruments, which are by intent engineered to blend together rather than transparently stood apart).
Coin in this respect is never at any time felt to be singled out or separated too awkwardly from the ensemble, interacting with them in precise Vivaldian ritornello fashion (that is, the alternating of the musical spotlight between ensemble and soloist). There is no instance of the sonorities of the cello disappearing into the ensemble, a technical issue that often plagues composers when they write concertante works for this instrument.
The mellow tone of Coin’s instrument, a 1982 Reinhard Ossenbrunner after M.Gottfriller c.1750, is captured beautifully by sound engineer John Dunkerley, a veteran of the Beethoven symphonies and Bach Brandenburgs with Hogwood/AAM . While an authentic instrument might sound a tad abrasive to unaccustomed ears, this is largely a matter of personal preference – but listeners for whom “original” sonorities are a problem should consider themselves forewarned.
As with period practice, Hogwood takes both works at a broad pace, such that even the slow movements move along at a comfortable – if somewhat fast by modern performance standards – moderato. In the opening movements of the C major concerto, though, there is a degree of playful robustness that propels the music along. The last movement also opens in fairly similar fashion, after a rather introspective Adagio which tantalizingly hints at, but does not consummate, a touch of Romantic expressiveness. Coin tosses off the high passages, double-stops and other technical effects in the movement with much panache. It is a testament to this young exponent’s (dare we say it) virtuosity that the difficult passages are made to sound more nonchalant than they really are.
Haydn has often been criticized by musicians and audiences alike as a “ear-candy” composer (and especially so in the hands of inept performers). Not so in the case of the D major concerto – Hogwood and Coin belie this sentiment right from the opening of this work, played with a lot of blue-blooded, highbrow empathy. The solo cello immediately engages in a leisurely dialogue with the orchestra, rather like an esteemed guest dropping by for afternoon tea and crumpets.
The cantilena of the slow movement is taken with autumnal warmth, making its point without indulgence or overstatement. Coin displays an admirable sense of rubato that conveys an acute sensitivity to the music. Here Hogwood and his band follow Coin’s lead, providing a competent yet unobtrusive canvas for the figurations of the solo cello voice.
The closing movement is perhaps the most disappointing, relatively speaking. It does not fully deliver as much spontaniety or insight as in the previous movements (in all deference to Coin/Hogwood/AAM, Steven Isserlis’ gavotte-like romp with Norrington/Chamber Orchestra of Europe (details below) beats all others hands-down in this movement); although, to be fair, Coin’s well-mannered baroquerie is no less valid a reading.
As was customary with concertos of the time, Haydn did not provide the cadenzas, leaving it to soloists to display their skills improvisionally. In accordance with that practice, Coin here contributes the cadenzas in the first movement of the C major and first two movements of the D major, with cadenzas in the other movements from that most ubiquitous of artists, Anonymous. He (Coin, not Anonymous) also inserts small, unobtrusive touches of spontaneous ornamentation that does not grate with repeated listening, but rather asserts his credentials as a palpable exponent of this music.
The cadenza in the last movement of the D major, interestingly, quotes a phrase from the first study of Kreisler’s violin method, undoubtedly a pleasant surprise for musicians familiar with this literature.
As forementioned, this disc is short measure at full-price by today’s standards. However, due to its age, one could reasonably expect to find the old L’Oiseau Lyre original involuntarily at marked down prices at “bargain” sections of music shops. This precludes, of course, paying full-price for the new Decca cover at mainstream retail (because other than the cover, nothing has changed). But ultimately this comes down to the individual’s preference between cost and quality in the acquisition of this coupling.
Given the incontestible persuasiveness of this playing, there is presently no rival that can touch Coin/Hogwood and the AAM on original instruments. The casual collector with the budget (or the luck to find a discounted disc) should try to make its acquaintance; it is nigh indispensable to admirers of authentic performance or their performers. Either way, it will certainly not disappoint, and perhaps even provide many hours of repeated listening that will more than make up for its cost.
Also Recommended: If we expand the field to include modern instruments, the contest is thrown wide open. However, the new release by Isserlis/Norrington/COE (RCA Victor 09026 68578-2, full-price) immediately takes first choice in this repertoire, generously including with both concertos the B-flat Sinfonia Concertante and G major Andante Cantabile as fillers. It is outside the scope of discussion here to list its extraordinary qualities, but interested readers should give this disc an audition to discover its merits for themselves.
Benjamin Chee visited the Biblioteka Jagiellonska in Krakw once and turned up a Gluck manuscript entitled “Iphignie en Singapour”, which was rejected by musicologists worldwide. Give me a break.