The Aeolian Quartet's epic cycle, originally released in the Seventies, was one of the gramophone's major contributions to Haydn's cause. Listening to the performances anew I find they have lost none of their freshness: they were based on the latest research, and the playing itself is always intelligent and thoughtful, with Emanuel Hurwitz's sweet-toned violin-playing a great asset throughout. (Misha Donat)
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.
This warmly recorded, naturally balanced disc is delightful. The Minetti Quartet offers three late Haydn masterpieces, played with plenty of high spirits and, in the slow movements, a fresh songfulness (both Opp. 64's and 76's are marked "cantabile") that's most affecting. There's practically nothing to criticize here. Highlights include the really zippy final prestos of Opp. 64 and 76, and the intense Largo assai of the "Rider" quartet. In the finale of the latter, the group's articulation is a touch clipped in the main theme, and as a result the music doesn't quite speak as it should, but better too much energy than too little. The minuet (really a scherzo) of Op. 76 also is terrific, smooth as silk until Haydn's disruptive syncopation sets in. If you're looking for a very attractive single-disc collection of late Haydn quartets, I can recommend this without hesitation. Playing time is a bit short–under an hour–so there was still room for another full quartet, but if this doesn't concern you terribly, then go for it.
Whit "Pop" Haydn is the winner of six "Performer of the Year" awards from the Magic Castle, the Hollywood clubhouse of the Academy of Magical Arts. In February 2006, he also became Vice-President of that organization, and served for four years in that capacity. He has opened for Jerry Seinfeld, the Smothers Brothers, Loretta Lynn and others, and performed on cruise ships of many different lines, including Cunard Line's Queen Elizabeth 2, and the Diamond Princess.