Times of Transition: Cello Concertos by C.P.E. Bach and Haydn

Andreas Brantelid / Lars Ulrik Mortensen / Concerto Copenhagen

(CD - Naxos #8574365)

Review by James Manheim

Cellist Andreas Brantelid's gut-stringed cello, sounding rather hornlike, may take a few minutes to get used to, and one might take issue with certain aspects of this Naxos release by Concerto Copenhagen and leader Lars Ulrik Mortensen, including the garishly over-intimate sound and the group's tendency, so common among Baroque groups playing Classical-era music, to make the Haydn Cello Concerto No. 2 in D major, Hob. 7b:2, sound like a Baroque piece. Yet the listener comes away from the album fully satisfied, and its commercial success is entirely deserved. The accomplishment of Brantelid and Mortensen is to give the "transitional" Cello Concerto in A major, Wq 172, of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and the Haydn Cello Concerto No. 1 in C major, Hob. 7b/1, their full weight. After all, Bach and Haydn did not think of what they were doing as transitional when they wrote these works. The central movement of the Bach concerto, framed by a pair of Baroque-sounding movements, would have passed muster with Beethoven's audiences. The usual delicacy of the first Haydn concerto is convincingly jettisoned here as Brantelid lays into the virtuosic finale and some compelling cadenzas (the origin of which is not mentioned). He makes a strong case for both the Haydn concertos as major works in which the composer worked out key aspects of his musical language: in the first, the individualization of the soloist, and in the second, an expansive sonata form movement of the type Mozart was mastering. Throughout, the feelings of discovery the composers must have felt are mirrored by lively, spontaneous performances, and this is all to Mortensen's credit. A stimulating release for any lover of the Classical era, and likely a standard recording of the Haydn Cello Concerto No. 1.

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