This disc strikes me as an ideal introduction to the music of Turkey’s greatest composer. Ahmed Adnan Saygun’s style might be described as “Szymanowski with a primal rhythmic feel.” If you love the composer’s First Violin Concerto then you will find here a very similar exoticism, nocturnal atmosphere, and love of voluptuous textures. The harmonic style is intensely chromatic, but also highly melodic. Like Bartók in his last period, Saygun’s handling of tonality mellowed toward the end of his life, which makes the Cello Concerto more consonant than the Viola Concerto, but both works are absolutely gorgeous and masterpieces of their kind. It’s positively criminal that no one plays these pieces regularly in concert. The performances here are excellent. Tim Hugh is a well-known cellist, and he pours on the tone with all of the rhapsodic abandon that Saygun requires. Mirjam Tschopp also is a superb violist, with a big, beefy tone that never gets swamped by the intricate orchestration. It’s also very rewarding to hear a Turkish orchestra in this music–and to find that it plays beautifully under Howard Griffiths.
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.
A majority of well-known composers have written at least a few chamber compositions in their entire lifetime. The most famous would have to be Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and probably Prokofiev. Some, including Respighi and Vaughan Williams, are overlooked or even rejected in today's society. Whether it's because of lack of originality or excessive complexities, these sorts of compositions are always left in the dark. Take Rachmaninov's Cello Sonata, for instance. This 35-minute work doesn't receive the complete recognition it deserves. It's overshadowed by the composer's piano concertos and symphonies, all of which are respectfully first-rate works in their own right.