Richard Wigmore for Gramophone
If I had heard these performances in concert I would doubtless have enjoyed them with few reservations. The 20-strong Australian period band are a polished, style-conscious ensemble, and both soloists have plenty to say about the music. On CD, of course, the performances have to pass the test of repeated listening and justify themselves in the face of the (abundant) competition. Le matin – from Haydn’s early ‘Times of Day’ trilogy that crosses the symphony with the Baroque concerto grosso – seems to me to come off best. The vernal opening movement goes with an infectious swing, solo violin and cello consort gracefully in the Andante, and bassoon and double bass evidently enjoy their unlikely double-act in the Minuet’s Trio (no wheeziness here). And while the tempo for the finale initially sounds a shade cautious, it does mean that violinist Skye McIntosh can dispatch her fiendish toccata figuration without fluster.
The concertos – arguably Haydn’s best before the Trumpet Concerto – are more controversial. Vastly experienced both as a Baroque cellist and as a gamba player, Daniel Yeadon has a clean, oaky tone and uses vibrato sparingly and selectively. His fluid approach to tempo pays dividends in the speaking eloquence of the Adagio, where the central development here evokes CPE Bach at his most darkly ruminative. But a tendency to meditate has its dangers in the first movement, which can lose crucial momentum; and while Yeadon lustily characterises the finale’s comic antics – not least the grotesque plunges into the abyss – his fondness for distending the tempo means that the orchestra has to spurt forward each time it re-enters.
Playing on a reproduction double-manual French harpsichord, Erin Helyard has an even freer approach to rhythm and tempo in the D major Concerto, advertised on its initial publication as ‘for harpsichord or fortepiano’. Perhaps I’m simply prejudiced. But the delicately ornamental Adagio, in particular, has always seemed to gain from the dynamic shadings possible on the fortepiano. Not even Helyard’s sensitive timing and apt changes of manual can persuade me otherwise. Beyond this, the wide tempo fluctuations in the first movement and the finale can be superficially effective but never sound convincingly integrated. Helyard goes into a daydream at several points in the gypsy rondo finale, then takes the impassioned B minor theme (at 2'53") appreciably slower than the surrounding music – ear-tickling idiosyncrasies when heard in concert, perhaps, but liable to irritate on repetition. Andreas Staier, playing on a period fortepiano (Harmonia Mundi), is my clear first choice in this popular work. And while I’m glad to have heard Yeadon in the Cello Concerto, rivals including Steven Isserlis (RCA), Truls Mørk (Virgin Classics) and Christophe Coin (L’Oiseau Lyre) convey at least as much character without Yeadon’s sometimes slow-and-loose approach to tempo.