JOSEPH HAYDN (1732 - 1809)
Symphony No 66 in B flat major. 21.23
Symphony No 67 in F major 25.15
Symphony No 68 in B Flat Major 29.18
Sinfonia Bela Drahos
Studio, Budapest 19 - 23 January 1998 Naxos 8.554406 [76.05]
As so often when listening to Joseph Haydn's music one has such a strong
feeling that here was a happy man. The impression given so strongly by his
work is of his inner feeling of contentment and ease with his lot.
This latest CD from Naxos gives us three Symphonies from the mid 1770s when
Haydn was fully established at the Esterhazy Court and had control over its
musical requirements. His duties demanded a large varied output - opera,
ceremonial music, church music, and instrumental pieces for the innumerable
social events in the household. As his duties involved performing and supervising
as well as writing one wonders how it was all fitted in. Possibly this fact
of being constantly busy had something to do with living until he was 77
- a considerable lifespan for his time. After all, conductors down the
generations seem to be generally long lived.
The works on the disc are before Haydn's final development of the Symphonic
form as typified later in his last twelve great symphonies, but the depth
and variety clearly show the way he was going.
The three Symphonies on the disc each have the conventional four movements
in the standard sequence that had become established by then. The B Flat
Major (No 66) has a lively Allegro with an attractive first theme,
the Adagio uses muted strings and a tiny pizzicato
interpolation. The Minuet is full of elegance and its linked
Trio has a charming passage with bassoon and oboe doubling the first violin
line. The Finale is largely in the form of a rondo and makes
considerable use of a simple short phrase.
No 67 (Naxos would have made it easier with the occasional named symphony)
again shows us 'Papa' Haydn at his most charming. A foot-tapping 6/8 time
sets the liveliest of starts in the Presto opening movement, which
leads to an Adagio which includes a canon for first and second violins.
Another graceful Minuet and Trio includes another of the composer's
innovations in the use of a drone bass from one of a pair of muted solo
violins. The 'experiments' continue in the Allegro last movement
as Haydn chooses to write for a string trio for an added adagio before
returning to the full orchestra and tempo by stages. Haydn was once quoted
as saying that where he was employed was so remote that he had to be original
as there was no-one to confuse him. This disc helps to show what he meant.
In No 68 in B Flat Major we see again what a happily integrated orchestra
the Esterhazy is. Its members are drawn from the ranks of the Hungarian State
Symphony Orchestra and includes the Orchestra's wind principals. Throughout
the three works the excellent work of the wind players is a constant delight.
The opening Vivace, alert as ever, leads to an unusually placed second
movement minuet full of delightful shading contrasts. The Adagio
Cantabile - the longest movement on the disc by some measure - has its
chief variety from the use of different dynamic levels. The Presto -
Finale with a lively rondo is yet another foot-tapping passage of great
This is a most enjoyable CD - well played, well recorded and soundly chosen
But David Wright is less sure
I have always found that Haydn had periods of writing rather ordinary symphonies
and, at other times, a stream of magnificent symphonies. To my mind symphonies
39 to 48 inclusive are simply splendid ... the two great C major symphonies
numbers 41 and 48 respectively are priceless, particularly in the recordings
by the superlative Trevor Pinnock. Did it have something to do with Nikolaus
building the palace of Esterháza at the time? His symphonies numbered
in the seventies are also very fine. As with Mozart, Haydn was at home in
E flat and its relative minor, C minor as in symphonies 74, 76 and 78. One
of his last symphonies, 99, was also in E flat. In fact symphony 95 is in
C minor and is a real joy. Numbers 95 - 99 are among his best.
The three symphonies on this CD are 'preparing' for the fine symphonies of
the 70s. They are engaging works although they seem to be composed to a well-worn
and trusty method. They are not his most original works and therefore not
among his best.
I found the recording a little worrying. Low notes buzzed on each of my recording
equipment and the sound was somewhat rough at times. It lacked polish and
elegance thus robbing the music of its charm.
But there is much to admire. Haydn's genius in his monothematic movements
such as the finale of number 66. And, as I have often said, Haydn wrote real
allegros unlike Bruckner, Sibelius or Elgar ... although I hasten to add
that Bruckner and Sibelius were composers of great ability. Years ago I worked
with Stanford Robinson on Symphony No 67 which begins quietly but
maintains its rhythm adding to the music's coherence. It also has a good
sense of humour, the third excellent Haydnesque quality mentioned so far.
In this symphony Haydn takes on an original campaign. There is a canon in
the slow movement which ends with a few bars played col legno. The
trio in the minuet calls for the G string to be tuned down a major
second giving the sound of a drone. Incidentally, have you ever noticed the
bagpipe drone in the Symphony No 88? Having praised Haydn for his
real allegros the allegro finale of 67 has a slow movement within it. It
makes for an unsatisfactory conclusion.
I shall not forget a BBC lunchtime concert in the mid 1960s when the BBC
Welsh Symphony Orchestra under Rae Jenkins were to conclude their hour long
programme with this symphony and 'we had to leave the concert' in the finale
to 'give way to the one o'clock news'.
There is a lack of vitality in the opening vivace of Symphony No 68.
There isn't the spring, the bounce or the exuberance and, as through the
disc, the sound is a little dull. The minuet plods and the slow movement
... note it is in E flat ... lacks grace in this performance. The final
rondo is another bitty Haydn movement. At one stage he seems to emulate
his splendid Symphony No 39 in G minor with a passage in this key
which is dark.
Not Haydn's best nor the best performances. Dorati and the Philharmonia Hungarica
are far better.