Haydn & C.P.E. Bach: Cello Concertos
This latest release from Steven Isserlis features Haydn's two cello concertos. If these are the most accomplished contributions to the cello's burgeoning repertoire written in the eighteenth century, C.P.E Bach's Cello Concerto in A major is scarcely less fine. The program is completed by two charming rococo encores, Mozart's Geme la tortorella from La finta giardiniera and the Adagio from Boccherini's Cello Concerto in G major G480.
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I have other albums by cellist Isserlis that I like even more than this latest album: his playing of Schubert and Bargiel, albums of Faure and Saint-Saens, him playing Rachmaninoff and Franck) but that's small potatoes when the music is as good as it is here. In this potpourri of eighteenth century music for cello and ensemble, he plays two concerti by Haydn (in C major and D major -the second is particularly appealing), a short piece by Mozart (Geme la Tortorella, from La finta giardinidera, lovely but not one of his great pieces, rather, a bagatelle), an absolutely lovely concerto by C. P. E. Bach (cello concerto in A major), and an adagio from a Boccherini concerto (in G major). It's all beautiful music. There's nothing subpar on this album but the Bach concerto and the second piece by Haydn raise it to near-sublime. How fortunate we are to live in an age where for a few dollars' expenditure, we can listen to music so exciting all the time!
I haven't commented on Isserlis's performance and I expect I should. He's one of the premiere cellists playing today. His sound is not as warm and rich as, say, Yo Yo Ma or Alysia Weilerstein (my current standard of excellence). His playing reminds me more of an old favorite of mine, the French great, Pierre Fournier, urbane, smooth and serene, the lyricism of his sound seeping out around the edges, with no virtuosic tub thumping.
Haydn's cello concertos are full of his trademark depth, beauty and wit. They are also very technically demanding, but you wouldn't know it from hearing Isserlis play; he gives the music a vigour and drive which really lights up the quicker movements and both of the slow movements are simply sublime here, being full of beauty, emotion and an inner light which I can't quite put my finger on but which really makes them glow. He has written new cadenzas, all of which are adventurous but go beautifully with Haydn's music, and the whole effect is simply fabulous to my ears.
(I confess that I have always struggled to like CPE Bach, and the smaller works here, while being enjoyable enough, don't do much for me – but who cares? The Haydn concertos are more than enough reason to buy this disc.)
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen play excellently, with a supple vigour and empathy which complements Isserlis's playing beautifully. The recorded sound is up to Hyperion's usual fine standard and Isserlis's notes are as witty and insightful as always. It's an outstanding release all round and very warmly recommended.