C.P.E. Bach would undoubtedly rejoice, were he alive, upon hearing this album of his cello concertos by Truls Mørk and Les Violons du Roy under the direction of Bernard Labadie. From the opening notes, one cannot help but feel the orchestra is fantastic. The A major Cello Concerto begins with vigor and liveliness, with the ensemble playing perfectly together in tempo with great spirit. Mørk plays just as well, with a clean, accurate, and somewhat light touch.
What a versatile artist Steven Isserlis is. Having made his name as a sympathetic interpreter of a wide variety of romantic and modern music, here he shows he can be just as persuasive in eighteenth-century repertoire. His stylistic awareness is evident in beautiful, elegant phrasing, selective use of vibrato and varied articulation, giving an expressive range that never conflicts with the music’s natural language. In the cello concertos he is helped by an extremely sensitive accompaniment, stressing the chamber musical aspects of Haydn’s pre-London orchestral writing. The soft, intimate sonority at 3'06'' in the first movement of the D major is a typical example. The Adagios are taken at a flowing speed, but Isserlis’s relaxed approach means they never sound hurried. The Allegro molto finale of the C major Concerto, on the other hand, sounds poised rather than the helter-skelter we often hear. In his understanding of the music, Isserlis is a long way ahead of Han-na Chang, whose version places the emphasis on fine, traditional-style cello playing. Mork’s vivacious, imaginative performances characterize the music very strongly, but my preference would be for Isserlis’s and Norrington’s lighter touch and greater refinement.
The Cello Concerto No.1 in C Major, Hob. VIIb/1, by Joseph Haydn was composed around 1761–1765 for longtime friend Joseph Weigl, then the principal cellist of Prince Nicolaus's Esterhazy Orchestra. The work was presumed lost until 1961, when musicologist Oldrich Pulkert discovered a copy of the score at the Prague National Museum. Though some doubts have been raised about the authenticity of the work, most experts believe that Haydn did compose this concerto.
One of the more puzzling remarks about the music of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach came from Mozart, who said that anyone who listened closely would realize his debt to the German composer. That seemed unlikely, given that Mozart only rarely availed himself of the Sturm und Drang ("storm and stress") style of C.P.E.'s keyboard music. But listen to this release by flutist Emmanuel Pahud and you'll get an idea of what Mozart was talking about. It's not just that the flute concertos are basically galant in style, not Sturm und Drang. It's a certain nervous energy that makes the flute bloom rapidly out of squarish themes and keeps you guessing as to what's coming next.
Argentinean Alberto Ginastera was among the most successful mid-twentieth century composers in retaining the populist accessibility of his early works while incorporating elements of serialism as his style developed. His later works may not have the hummable melodies or propulsive rhythmic drive of his early period, but they have a comparable dramatic logic and emotional directness, which give them an immediate appeal. His two cello concertos, written in 1968 and 1981, are clearly "modernist" works of his late period, but they are warmly lyrical, intensely dramatic, and orchestrated with intriguing inventiveness. In their slow sections, they are also prime examples of the mysterious, gorgeously evocative atmospherics of which Ginastera was a master throughout his career.