Sergei Istomin / David Rabinovich / Apollo Ensemble

Haydn: Cello Concertos

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This Belgian release features a Dutch authentic-instrument group, the Apollo Ensemble, with the Russian-born (and partly American- and Canadian-trained) cellist Sergei Istomin in a lively period performance of Haydn's two cello concertos, with a rarely heard early symphony to round out the program. The most distinctive feature of the recording is the small size of the orchestra, with just two first violinists, two second violinists, and single players of the viola, cello, and double bass (along with oboes, horns, and bassoons, which you'd better believe stand out at this size). This is similar to but even smaller than the commonly reported size of Haydn's orchestra at Esterháza castle (which probably had three players on each violin part), and it's debatable whether this is the best way to go with Haydn. The fact that he worked with an orchestra of this size does not indicate that he necessarily preferred it, and indeed his music later in life was performed by much larger groups. Be this as it may, this is a strong example among recordings following the trend toward smaller groupings (which may, like so much of the U.S. medical establishment, be a case of practice following economics). The Apollo players cultivate a chamber-like interaction, with strong and varied emphasis on statement-and-answer passages. They're nicely matched by Istomin, one of the few performers who has carved out careers with equal vitality on both the historical- and the modern-instrument sides. He digs into the low growl with which the Cello Concerto in C major, Hob. 7b/1, begins, and he brings a sense of excitement to the uncharacteristically virtuosic passages in both concertos. The small group does not suffer from any lack of momentum in the hell-for-leather development section in the C major concerto's first movement. Strong graphic design, with novel views of Esterháza, is an attractive bonus for a disc that's definitely of interest to those down with hardcore historical performances of Haydn. The booklet text is given in English, French, German, and Dutch.

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