The Strad issue
Sebastian Comberti (cello/director) Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
The intensive quest to locate an 18th-century concerto that will enrich the cello’s repertoire continues. Does this work by Stuttgart cellist Johann Zumsteeg (1760–1802) fit the bill? He undoubtedly offers pleasant operatically hued material. The first movement may be a little wayward structurally, but the expressive Andante molto bolsters the musical content and highlights his gifts as a song writer. This is followed by a jaunty Rondo with some unusual richly textured scoring to match the solo cello. Throughout, Sebastian Comberti gives a tasteful and stylish account in this clear recording, ensuring we hear Zumsteeg in the best light.
Yet it is inevitable that when placed against Haydn’s two masterworks, Zumsteeg’s effort appears musically emasculated. Certainly Comberti seems even more persuasive in the Haydn concertos, bringing a delightfully natural, vocally informed delivery to the melodic lines. Eloquent in the D major Adagio, and incisively accompanied by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, he takes the ensuing Allegro at a gentle tempo with much evident joie de vivre. This infectiously cheerful invention also characterises the allegros of the C major work, which are performed with refinement and charm, and the central Adagio here is beautifully sustained. It’s proving a good bicentenary for Haydn.