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HAYDN: Cello Concertos – Pavel Gozmiakov, cello/Orch. Gulbenkian – Onyx

HAYDN: Cello Concertos – Pavel Gozmiakov, cello/Orch. Gulbenkian – Onyx 4151,  59:55 (6/17/16) *****:

The legendary King of Portugal 1725 Stradivarius makes police-escorted journey from museum to concert hall where it dazzles in two Haydn concertos.

In some endeavors, say bird-watching, novelty is the desideratum. Last year a Siberian Bunting (sp. vlasowae) with a faulty compass created quite a stir as a rare guest from another continent. In other experiences, say having some dental work done, surprises and experimentation are not what we are looking for. Listening to two cello concertos by Joseph Haydn falls somewhere in the middle. These works top the list for both the genre and the composer’s oeuvre and are thus exceedingly familiar. A new wrinkle would not come amiss. On the other hand,  we don’t wish for major tinkering or indulgent extravagances that would mar the perfect design of these works.

The Haydn recital begins with a cello adaptation of the adagio from the violin Concerto in C. The sound of Pavel Gomziakov’s cello is astonishingly beautiful on the simple melodies of what is rare in Haydn, a true adagio. Behind the cellist and quite recessed at that, the Gulbenkian orchestra mostly stands quietly in rapt appreciation.

The Gulbenkians seem to have added a few members, including a harpsichord as they announce the almost Mozartian subject of the Cello Concerto in D. The cello enters, again standing well in front of the ensemble, again with a swoon-inducing voice, especially in the lower register. By now, the mystery of the cello is solved by way of the liner notes. The instrument is the famous “Chevillard, King of Portugal 1725 Stradivarius,” on loan from the National Museum of Music in Lisbon. It arrived at the hall with a police escort. This special cello is novelty number one and a very good thing.

Starting with the D major work, the orchestra gives good account of the Allegro Moderato, and we are on familiar ground until the start of the very long cadenza.  This turns out to be an examination of everything the King’s cello can do. There are improbable bell-like harmonics, resonant growling that mimics a double-bass, swoops, glides and whispers. It is nothing if not extravagant and at 16:37 surely the longest exposition of this movement on record. By the adagio, we expect leisurely introspection, and we get it. The Gulbenkians recede only to catch up on the minor key modulation and gently cushion the cello’s melancholy stroll. The Rondo/Allegro reintegrates soloist and ensemble and again there is an absence of hurry, plenty of Haydnesque dialog and a cheerful conclusion.

Purist may cavil at what might seem like a bloated or swaggering display by the soloist. Those approaching these works with little experience or appreciation of the cello might need to be shaken out of a pleasure-induced trance. For the merely skeptical, an intermezzo follows, which gives the hard-hearted one more chance to surrender to pure tonal beauty. This is yet another adagio, a cantabile from Symphony No. 13 in D.  While the Gulbenkians drowse in the background, the cello sings a tale of longing, perhaps expressive of the cello’s lonely captivity behind glass in the National Museum.

Then the C major work breathes an air of normality on the sunny introduction. The cello stumbles in on the snorting double-stop. It is all bonhomous affability between the very alert ensemble and the proud Strad.  It is hard to believe that there was ever any doubt that this concerto, discovered in the archives of a Czech castle in 1961, was the work of the Franz J. It is replete with all the Haydn virtues, melodic invention, harmonic intrigues and narrative cohesion.

Our final adagio is spacious and generous. It seems that some of the amber hues of the King’s cello have spilled over to the Gulbenkians, who have been basking in the glow of the Strad. At the end, all exit quietly. The Allegro is taken suitably brisk. Mr. Gozmiakov switches out his legato lushness for a crisp articulation. He urges the Gulbenkians to follow him as he dashes up hill and down dale, the mighty Strad opening the way. It is all thrills by the closing cadenza, a triumphant performance by Pavel and his capable if undersized ensemble.

In the category of unexpected dazzlement, this recording compares well with the arrival of the rare Siberian Bunting. It is worth the effort to make its acquaintance. Finally, the scale of the achievement prompts me to ask the National Museum of Music if they would be so kind as to lend Mr. Gozmiakov the Strad once more to record the Bach Cello Suites, which were written within a year or two of the birth of this legendary instrument.

TrackList: Adagio in F from Violin Concerto in C Hob. VII; Cello Concerto in D Hob. VII2; Adagio Cantabile in G from Symphony 13 in D; Cello Concerto in C Hob; VIIB:1

—Fritz Balwit

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