Wendy Warner’s Hearty, Hospitable Haydn

Review by: David Vernier


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Haydn scholar H.C. Robbins Landon described Haydn’s D major cello concerto as one of the composer’s “weakest compositions”, an “uncomfortable” work, displaying “misjudgments of dramatic timing”, its concluding rondo “staid and melodically short-winded”. Whatever the theoretical, and to some degree subjective basis for that assessment, for most listeners, hearing this concerto will provoke nothing short of pure delight and appreciation for Haydn’s clever and catchy—and often virtuosic—thematic writing, buoyant rhythms,  and thoroughly entertaining interplay between soloist and orchestra. There’s a reason why the work is represented on more than 100 recordings in the current CD catalog. And Wendy Warner’s addition to that number is a stellar confirmation of its popularity to audiences and particular appeal to performers.

That same popularity applies to the C major concerto, written in the 1760s, some 20 years earlier than the D major, yet only re-discovered in 1961 and given its modern premiere in Prague a year later. This work features even more brilliant bursts of virtuosic writing for the soloist—and Warner really digs in: you can just picture the flashing bow strokes, the swift, fluid motion of fingers, and a resultant musical enunciation that seems so easily and effortlessly produced, so absolutely natural, and so articulate and artful that you wouldn’t care if the tune were “Twinkle, twinkle little star”, you’d be just as impressed and satisfied. In fact, in view of the grand heap of Haydn cello concerto recordings, Warner’s playing places this one at the very top.

Warner’s impressive command of style and technique also serve to convince us that the “other” concerto on the program—a little-known work by Czech composer, and friend of Mozart, Joseph Myslivecek—is a more than worthy companion to the Haydn pieces; in fact, if you’re not paying very close attention, you won’t notice the transition from the Haydn C major concerto to Myslivecek’s work in the same key—the style and quality of Myslivecek’s composition makes an easy, almost seamless flow from one piece to the next. Combining this work with the two Haydn concertos was a smart bit of programming that, along with the unquestioned virtuoso performances of Wendy Warner, gives this disc an extraordinary value not only for collectors but for those who have yet to acquire a recording of these essential Haydn works. Praise for the orchestra and its conductor Drostan Hall must not go without mention—they are outstanding collaborators whose appropriately styled, energetic playing and remarkably tight ensemble complement every note and expressive utterance from Warner’s Guarneri cello. The sound, from College Church in Wheaton, Illinois, is consistent with Cedille’s highest standard. Don’t miss this.

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