Franz Joseph Haydn
Works for Cello & Orchestra

Media Review / Comparison


2013-01-12 — Original posting (on Blogger)
2013-02-07 — Added the recording with Mstislav Rostropovich
2013-08-08 — New standard layout applied
2014-11-08 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-07-11 — Brushed up for better readability
2019-08-29 — Some restructuring & outline added, for better readability


Outline


Early Encounters with Haydn’s Cello Concertos

The cello concerto Nr.2 in D by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809)  was featured on one of my very first LPs that I received as a Xmas gift, back in 1968; the soloist was Ludwig Hoelscher (1907 – 1996) with the Nordwestdeutsche Philharmonie under Georg Ludwig Jochum (1909 – 1970); it’s decades since I last listened to this recording. The cello concerto Nr.1 in C was featured in the first concert that I attended just by myself, back in the late ’60s (see “Early Encounters with Music“), then played by the young Klaus Heitz (now retired!), together with the Festival Strings Lucerne under the direction of Rudolf Baumgartner (1917 – 2002) — my first encounter with this composition (this concert was “new” back then: the score had only just been re-discovered in Prague in 1961).

Still on LPs, I later added recordings by Maurice Gendron (concerto Nr.1 with the London Symphony Orchestra under Raymond Leppard, Nr.2 with the Orchestre des Concerts Lamoureux under Pablo Casals) and by Mstislav Rostropovich (both concertos with the Academy of St.Martin-in-the-Fields, the soloist conducting). Neither of these I have listened to in many years, and I also did not feel compelled adding them on CD — so far.

Rostropovich in Concert

As an aside: Around 1978 I have attended a concert in the Tonhalle in Zurich where Mstislav Rostropovich played both Haydn concertos; if I remember correctly, this was part of a celebration concert programmed along the lines of a typical concert 100 years (now 134) years earlier (a monster concert, lasting over 3 hours, and at the ridiculous entry price of the original event) that Gerd Albrecht was presenting with the Tonhalle Orchestra. The concert was hopelessly sold out, I was sitting not in the Hall itself, but in the adjacent “Kleiner Tonhallesaal”, hence had a very restricted concert experience. A friend — professional cellist himself — had a seat right above the concert podium, and he later reported that he found Rostropovich’s Haydn performances “very, very bad”; I can’t deny nor agree (though I had a hard time taking this for real!), given the large distance from the podium.


The Recordings in this Comparison

Since switching to CDs I have not felt like re-adding the above recordings to my collection, but was rather trying to find a suitable, more recent recording — and ended up downloading the recording with Truls Mørk with the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra under the late Iona Brown. I found that recording to be OK, but wasn’t really excited or particularly moved by that performance (see below for detail). So, I piked up the hint of a recent BaL on BBC3, which discussed recordings of Haydn’s Sinfonia concertante, adding the recording with Steven Isserlis (see below). At the same time I added the recording with Mischa Maisky, after having viewed his performance of the C major concerto on YouTube. Finally, I decided to re-add Mstislav Rostropovich‘s recording last month. So, these are the recordings that I compared:

Truls Mørk, Iona Brown, Norwegian Chamber Orchestra

Haydn: Cello concertos, Truls Mørk, Iona Brown, CD cover

Joseph Haydn: Cello Concertos Nr.1 in C, Nr.2 in D

Truls Mørk, Iona Brown, Norwegian Chamber Orchestra

Simax Classics PSC 1078 /iTunes download (256 Kbps, stereo); ℗ 1992
(no booklet)

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Mischa Maisky, Chamber Orchestra of Europe

Haydn: Cello concertos, Mischa Maisky, CD cover

Joseph Haydn: Cello Concertos Nr.1 in C, Nr.2 in D; Violin Concerto Nr.4 in G (played on the cello)

Mischa Maisky, Chamber Orchestra of Europe (live recordings)

DG 419 786-2 (CD, stereo); ℗ 1987

Haydn: Cello concertos, Mischa Maisky, UPC-A barcode
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Mstislav Rostropovich, Iona Brown, Academy of St.Martin-in-the-Fields

Haydn: Cello concertos, Mstislav Rostropovich, Iona Brown, CD cover

Joseph Haydn: Cello Concertos Nr.1 in C, Nr.2 in D

Mstislav Rostropovich, Iona Brown, Academy of St.Martin-in-the-Fields

EMI Classics 7243 5 67234 2 9 (CD, stereo); ℗ 1976 / © 2000

Haydn: Cello concertos, Mstislav Rostropovich, Iona Brown, UPC-A barcode
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Steven Isserlis, Sir Roger Norrington, Chamber Orchestra of Europe

Haydn: Cello concertos, Steven Isserlis, Sir Roger Norrington, CD cover

Joseph Haydn: Cello Concertos Nr.1 in C, Nr.2 in D; Sinfonia concertante in B, Hob.I/105

Steven Isserlis, Sir Roger Norrington, Chamber Orchestra of Europe

RCA Red Seal / Sony (CD, stereo); ℗ 1998 / © 2010

Haydn: Cello concertos, Steven Isserlis, Sir Roger Norrington, UPC-A barcode
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The above CD with Isserlis / Norrington also includes Joseph Haydn’s Sinfonia concertante in B♭ (sometimes listed as Symphony Nr.105) — and this is present in the following two box sets in my CD collection, featuring all of Joseph Haydn’s symphonies:

Antal Doráti, Philharmonia Hungarica

Haydn: The complete Symphonies, Antal Dorati, CD cover

Joseph Haydn: The Complete Symphonies

Antal Doráti, Philharmonia Hungarica

Decca 478 1221 (33 CDs, stereo); ℗ / © 2009

Haydn: The complete Symphonies, Antal Dorati, UPC-A barcode
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Dennis Russell Davies, Stuttgarter Kammerorchester

Haydn: The London Symphonies, Dennis Russell Davies, CD cover

Joseph Haydn: The Complete Symphonies

Dennis Russell Davies, Stuttgarter Kammerorchester (live recordings)

Sony Music 88697 443312 (37 CDs, stereo); ℗ / © 2009

Haydn: The London Symphonies, Dennis Russell Davies, UPC-A barcode
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Cello Concerto Nr.2 in D major, Hob.VIIb:2

I did this comparison first — partly because that’s the order in which I first encountered these works, and then, because I was saving the one in C for later, because I like it more. The concerto has the following three movements:

  1. Allegro moderato
  2. Adagio
  3. Rondo: Allegro

Remarks on the recordings

Mischa Maisky, Chamber Orchestra of Europe (1986)

  • (I): Duration: 11’53” (10’38” up to the cadenza); there’s no doubt that Mischa Maisky is an excellent cellist and extremely virtuoso (his Beethoven cello sonatas with Martha Argerich are among my top favorites!) — but here he is exaggerating! This is extremely fast (rather presto than allegro), often rushed, pushed for speed, to a degree that leads to rhythmic inaccuracies, superficialities, even serious coordination issues with the orchestra: especially with such a tempo, a conductor (other than the soloist) would have been helpful! OK, it’s a live recording — but still… The cadenza is by Natalia Gutman.
  • (II): Duration: 5’17” (4’18” up to the cadenza); too much vibrato, especially with the soloist, and the solo part to me is too pretentious. The cadenza is again by Natalia Gutman.
  • (III): Duration: 4’45”; even though the overall time is pretty much the same as with the other recordings, the solo part again appears extremely fast, rushed and superficial; in a concert, this may impress the public, but in a recording it definitely doesn’t — plus, there are coordination issues with the orchestra.
  • Rating: 2.3 (2 / 3 / 2)

Truls Mørk, Iona Brown, Norwegian Chamber Orchestra (1992)

  • (I): Duration: 15’09” (12’00” up to the cadenza); the soloist has a slight tendency to use bulge notes — and he uses a fairly strong and fast vibrato which sometimes gives the impression of bad intonation, especially with high notes — actually, the intonation does sometimes seem a bit superficial; top notes are often a bit “pressed / enforced”. Limited dynamics, and some lengths in the evolution part. Truls Mørk plays the cadenza by Maurice Gendron.
  • (II): Duration: 5’28” (4’36” up to the cadenza); too much vibrato, the sound is somewhat dull.
  • (III): Duration: 4’43”; again too much vibrato — especially on ending notes: these appear “charged”, hence can’t seem to collect momentum / build tension for the subsequent phrase.
  • Rating: 3.0 (3 / 3 / 3)

Mstislav RostropovichIona Brown, Academy of St.Martin-in-the-Fields (1975)

  • (I): Duration: 14’30” (12’32” up to the cadenza); a very good tempo — this really feels like Allegro moderato — never rushed, the soloist takes his time for the melodies, and for careful articulation and phrasing, he does use vibrato throughout, but that vibrato is more natural, not too heavy (like Mørk’s) not nervous (like Maisky’s); his tone is very dense and intense, he carefully forms every phrase. Rostropovich plays his own cadenza, maybe a bit too post-romantic for a Haydn concerto? Clearly a non-HIP performance, but excellent overall!
  • (II): Duration: 5’11” (4’26” up to the cadenza); see above on articulation, vibrato and phrasing. The cadenza is again Rostropovich’s own — this one is a better fit for this concerto, I think.
  • (III): Duration: 4’58”; I don’t have much to add on top of my remarks to the first movement: yes, the articulation is not as light as with Isserlis — but this is still a performance that I like listening to!
  • Rating: 4.0 (4 / 4 / 4)

Steven IsserlisSir Roger Norrington, Chamber Orchestra of Europe (1996)

  • (I): Duration: 14’03” (12’00” up to the cadenza); I’m very pleased to hear the orchestra play without vibrato (OK, that was to be expected with this conductor!). Also the cellist uses very limited vibrato and uses a much lighter articulation than the other contenders; he avoids “pressed” high peak notes by often using flageolets — with a period instrument (having a shorter fingerboard than modern instruments) this may well have been the only way to play these extreme heights, so this is absolutely adequate. Steven Isserlis plays his own cadenza. Hard to believe that this is the same orchestra as with Mischa Maisky!
  • (II): Duration: 4’39” (4’00” up to the cadenza); clearly faster than the other two interpretations, but still adagio (= calm), in contrast to Maisky, the solo part is unpretentious, light, “airy”; I like the (few, discreet) extra ornaments towards the end of the movement! Steven Isserlis again plays his own cadenza.
  • (III): Duration: 4’48”; again with an unpretentious solo part, accurately played (just a few rushed ornaments), light and clear articulation – very nice!
  • Rating: 5.0 (5 / 5 / 5)

Conclusions

Overall, the recording with Steve Isserlis & Sir Roger Norrington is the clear winner here. If you are looking for more of a “classic” performance, then I think the CD with Mstislav Rostropovich still is the reference recording.


Cello Concerto Nr.1 in C major, Hob.VIIb:1

This concerto has long been thought to be lost, but in 1961 it was re-discovered in Prague; it features the following three movements:

  1. Moderato
  2. Adagio
  3. Finale: Allegro molto

Remarks on the recordings

Mischa Maisky, Chamber Orchestra of Europe (1986)

  • (I): Duration: 8’31” (7’22” up to the cadenza); fast, often rushed / pushed, with lots of vibrato; some rushed articulation in the orchestra. This is not moderato, rather allegro (if not even presto), with a single focus on virtuosity. At least, it is much more controlled than the concerto in D with the same artists (again a live recording). Cadenza by Natalia Gutman.
  • (II): Duration: 8’07” (6’53” up to the cadenza); too much vibrato, played in eighths, even though the annotation is 2/4. The cadenza is written by an anonymous composer from the 18th century.
  • (III): Duration: 6’38”; light, with clean intonation, though also somewhat rushed in fast figures and scales; the orchestra is somewhat coarse.
  • Rating: 3.3 (3 / 3 / 4) — overall better and more controlled than the concerto in D.

Truls MørkIona Brown, Norwegian Chamber Orchestra (1992)

  • (I): Duration: 9’12” (7’45” up to the cadenza); as with the concerto in D above, Mørk’s vibrato is too strong and too fast, especially on high notes, which often sound pressed.
  • (II): Duration: 8’42” (7’20” up to the cadenza); too much vibrato, played in eighths, even though the annotation is 2/4. The sound management puts the soloist too much into the foreground — but for me also the solo part is too loud, focused on density and volume, lacking subtlety, could show more of the soft, intimate aspects of the movement.
  • (III): Duration: 6’38”; virtuosic — but too fast: the articulation is suffering.
  • Rating: 3.3 (4 / 3 / 3)

Mstislav RostropovichIona Brown, Academy of St.Martin-in-the-Fields (1975)

  • (I): Duration: 9’54” (7’32” up to the cadenza); even though it plays well, the orchestra sounds somewhat stiff — most of the drive, the momentum in this interpretation comes from the soloist: Rostropovich’s articulation is broad (often almost epic), but elastic, flexible, always effortless & natural; the soloist has no need to impress with virtuosity. Rostropovich plays a cadenza by Benjamin Britten: not really my favorite cadenza — too post-romantic to me; it reminded me of Russian music from the early 20th century: even though it works with melody fragments from the first movement, it does not make any attempt to fit into composition.
  • (II): Duration: 8’30” (7’22” up to the cadenza); even though the tempo is rather slow, there are at least sections where one can feel the 2/4 (rather than 4/8) measures. The tempo is almost the same as with Mørk / Brown, but the tone much softer (though the sound management placed the soloist just as much in the foreground). The cadenza is again by Benjamin Britten — now, this cadenza (for me) is a much better fit to the concert than the one for the first movement.
  • (III): Duration: 6’31”; what strikes me here is how Rostropovich is playing, uses more legato, is singing, focuses on flow — I see this as unpretentious, serving the music; even though I prefer historically more informed playing, I really like this interpretation.
  • Rating: 4.0 (4 / 4 / 4)

Steven IsserlisSir Roger Norrington, Chamber Orchestra of Europe (1996)

  • (I): Duration: 10’01” (8’10” up to the cadenza); clear, precise, good articulation. Slower than the others — but this is correct, as the annotation is Moderato, not Allegro. Steven Isserlis plays his own cadenza.
  • (II): Duration: 7’21” (6’12” up to the cadenza); Here, Isserlis & Norrington are substantially faster than the other recordings — which can certainly be justified, as adagio means calm, not slow — and this movement does feel calm, despite the faster tempo, as it is played (and felt) as being in 2/4 measures, not like 4/8. Again, Steven Isserlis plays his own cadenza.
  • (III): Duration: 7’14”; the tempo is at the lower limit, though definitely (and correctly) allegro, not presto. Very clear, transparent, light articulation both in the orchestra as in the solo part.
  • Rating: 5.0 (5 / 5 / 5)

Conclusions

Isserlis is again my clear favorite among these recordings — but as with the D major concerto, the CD with Mstislav Rostropovich for me is still is the reference recording in the context of the “classic” interpretations.


Sinfonia concertante in B♭ major, Hob.I/105

The Sinfonia concertante in B♭ major features the following three movements:

  1. Allegro
  2. Andante
  3. Allegro con spirito

Remarks on the recordings

Antal Doráti, Philharmonia Hungarica (1972)

with István Engl (oboe), László Baranyai (bassoon), Igor Ozim (violin), Zóltan Rácz (cello)

  • (I): Duration: 9’08”; in this movement, the concertino (soloists) for me is too much in the background — this rather sounds like a symphony with occasional solo parts. No cadenza is played, unfortunately.
  • (II): Duration: 4’06”; compared to the first movement, the concertino is more central, the orchestra more in the background. The sound quality is somewhat limited.
  • (III): Duration: 6’39”; too much vibrato, especially in the solo violin, the intonation is not always clean; somewhat superficial, coarse, rough.
  • Rating: 2.7 (2 / 3 / 3)

Dennis Russell Davies, Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra (2009)

with Jochen Müller-Brincken (oboe), Akio Koyama (bassoon), Benjamin Hudson (violin), György Bognár (cello)

  • (I): Duration: 9’18”; sounds somewhat more coarse than Doráti. Limited vibrato is used in this recording — but where it is used, it is too fast, especially with the solo violin.
  • (II): Duration: 4’54”; rather slow.
  • (III): Duration: 6’26” (without the applause); somewhat clumsy, heavy.
  • Rating: 3.3 (4 / 3 / 3)

Sir Roger Norrington, Chamber Orchestra of Europe (1996)

with Douglas Boyd (oboe), Matthew Wilkie (bassoon), Marieke Blankestijn (violin), Steven Isserlis (cello)

  • (I): Duration: 9’25”; good transparency, good tempo; the concertino is closest to the microphones, compared to the other recordings (understandably, as the soloists are not just members of the orchestra!), so one feels “among / sitting between the soloists”.
  • (II): Duration: 4’28”; good, with light and clear articulation.
  • (III): Duration: 6’43”; light & clear articulation, “classic” in the best sense of the word!
  • Rating: 5.0 (5 / 5 / 5)

And also here, I prefer the recording with Sir Roger Norrington.

Conclusions

Antal Doráti‘s recording isn’t bad, but is obviously not recent and can’t really compete. The same applies to the entire symphony recording cycle, which certainly has its merits (I had this cycle already on LP, but hadn’t listened through it im many years).

The recent recording with Dennis Russell Davies is also to be seen in the context of the entire symphony cycle, all of which is recorded live. I can’t discuss this here, obviously, but in short: the cycle is fresher, more vivid and lighter than Doráti, and the live aspect gives this a little more spontaneity. But overall, the cycle did not quite fulfill my expectations (I certainly would not call this historically informed playing in the strict sense); the CD set also suffers from a couple odd defects:

  • a (minor, but obvious) cutting error at 23″ in the finale of symphony Nr.94,
  • a major cutting error at 3’49” – 3’52” (3 seconds completely “off the track”) in the menuetto of symphony Nr.60 (“Il Distratto”!!!), and
  • a major defect / cutting error at 5’40” – 5’50”, just before the end of the finale in symphony Nr.54

Addendum: Recordings of Haydn’s Complete Symphonies

Overall, I may actually venture buying yet another complete cycle, a good candidate being the ongoing recording cycle with Thomas Fey and the Heidelberger Sinfoniker (still ongoing, as far as I know). In lieu of Davies, I had once considered the recording with Adam Fischer and the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra — but then I read that the recording took so many years that by the time he reached the last symphonies, the conductor wished to re-do the early ones: not a motivator for me to purchase the cycle! Complete cycles with that many symphonies obviously always have limitations, so an alternative might be to buy one cycle, and to complement it with highlights by other artists…



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