Modern audiences remain as enthusiastic about Haydn's Creation as his first audiences–who went wild in both London and Vienna–but we've lost our taste for his other masterpiece, The Seasons. For one thing, nobody considers James Thompson's famous poem great anymore; to modern tastes all this ecstatic nature paimting verges on the insipid, so it's fine to have it rendered in German (the words in English don't help a listener's appreciation).
Co-chief conductors Riccardo Minasi and Maxim Emelyanychev take turns on the podium leading this period-instrument band in a rousing collection of concertos by Haydn. Il Pomo d'Oro has been hailed "a wonderful ensemble, and Minasi an outstanding musician" capable of "bringing the house down with his virtuosity" (The Guardian). Emelyaychev's award-winning harpsichord joins Minasi's violin in the soloists' spotlight, along with the distinguished natural horn of Johannes Hinterholzer. The concertos are complemented by Haydn's Symphony No 83 (known as The Hen, because of the ‘clucking’ figures on the strings in its second movement) and his Keyboard Fantasia Hob.XVII:4.
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.
This was to be the end of the line for Italian word-setting by Viennese composers: once the confident sentiments that belonged to the poet Metastasio's opera seria felt the chill and threatening wind of Enlightenment and Revolution, their time was up. Even we, for the most part, prefer to remember the German-speaking Beethoven, Schubert and Haydn. So it is good to be reminded of their responses to the Italian muse (usually as part of their craft-learning student work) in this particularly well-cast recital. Central Europe, in the person of Andras Schiff meets Italy, in Cecilia Bartoli, to delightful, often revelatory effect.
An acclaimed Italian guitar virtuoso and composer, Mauro Giuliani, along with Fernando Sor, was one of the last great classical proponents of his instrument until its revival in the early twentieth century. He studied counterpoint and the cello, but on the six-string guitar he was entirely self-taught, and that became his principal instrument early on. Italy abounded with fine guitarists at the beginning of the nineteenth century (Carulli remains the most familiar today), but few of them could make a living because of the public's preoccupation with opera. So Giuliani embarked on a successful tour of Europe when he was 19, and in 1806 he settled in Vienna, where he entered the musical circle of Diabelli, Moscheles, and Hummel. He solidified his reputation with the 1808 premiere of his Guitar Concerto in A major, Op. 30, and was soon heralded as the greatest living guitar virtuoso. Even Beethoven noticed Giuliani, and wrote of his admiration for him. Perhaps to return the favor, Giuliani played cello in the 1813 premiere of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7.