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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Symphony No2 in C major, Op.61 (1845-46) [38:21]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony in D major, Hob.I /104 ‘London’ (1795) [27:04]
SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra/Roger Norrington.
Recorded live 29 Sept - 1 Oct 1999, Liederhalle, Stuttgart. DDD
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 93.011 [65:25]
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This a pleasing release of live recordings of the Haydn symphony No. 104 ‘London’ and the Schumann Symphony No. 2 from Hänssler Classic with the SWR Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra, under their chief conductor Sir Roger Norrington. The orchestra use modern instruments which Norrington augments with the considered use of historical practices in the performance.

The first symphony on this release, Haydn’s magnificent ‘London’ symphony, which was his final orchestral composition, brings a generally fine and energetic reading from Norrington. He takes the orchestra along at a fair clip displaying a sustained commitment and a real passion for the music. At points 4:47-5:26 (track 1) in the adagio-allegro first movement and at 3:35-4:36 (track 3) in the menuet-allegro third movement we can hear fine colourful playing with the orchestra really together. There are three or four untidy moments in the live performance and at point 8:03-8:07 (track 1) in the first movement it sounds like drums are being thumped offstage.

I have recently played and reviewed two other recent digital versions of the ‘London’ symphony which bear comparison. There is the set of the complete Haydn symphonies from the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra under a thoughtful Adam Fischer on Brilliant Classics 99925, which also uses modern instruments and takes into account period practice. Fischer’s reading feels more restrained, slightly laboured by comparison and often idiosyncratic whilst Norrington’s tempos are clearly better suited to the proceedings and win the battle here.

Thomas Fey’s recently released version of the ‘London’ Symphony with the crack Heidelberger Sinfoniker, also from Hänssler Classic on CD 98.340, is the first release of his projected cycle of the complete Haydn symphonies and wins any recommendation over Norrington hands down. Interestingly Fey’s orchestra use a pragmatic blend of period brass and timpani together with modern woodwind and strings played without vibrato. The admirable Thomas Fey effortlessly directs his players through the necessary emotional contrasts of nobility and seriousness to mischief and humour. Fey gives an exceptional reading with an electrifying and exciting performance from the orchestra which I feel surpasses all other versions and is for me now the benchmark recording for this work. The release also comes coupled with an equally stellar reading of Haydn’s ‘Surprise’ symphony No. 94.

Schumann composed his Second Symphony whilst he was experiencing nervous problems and described the work as a souvenir of a dark period in his life. Interestingly, compared to several other versions in my collection, Norrington takes the proceedings at pedestrian speeds all round. For example Norrington’s reading is nearly eight minutes longer overall than a version I have by Kurt Masur with the LPO on Teldec digital 4509-95501-2.

Norrington takes his SWR Stuttgart RSO assuredly and imaginatively through the symphony’s ‘light and shade’ and ‘sunshine and shadows’ but on the whole I find the performance inconsistent. In the lyrical third movement adagio espressivo there is some fine playing for example at point 0:21-1:16 (track 7) where there is a really poignant melody for the strings joined by oboes and clarinets. Furthermore in the spirited and optimistic final movement there is a good example of Schumann’s expression of youthful vitality at point 4:10-5:59 (track 8). On the down side, in the second movement scherzo, allegro vivace, there are several occasions where the woodwind seem to fall behind the lively string section - for example at points 0:25-0:32 and at 0:57-1:03 (track 6).

Norrington’s performance of the Schumann Second Symphony is, I feel, not of the same standard as its Haydn companion. The orchestral playing seems technical inferior possibly owing to a limited amount of rehearsal time, which would have been unusual for a radio orchestra. In addition the sound quality is not of a similar standard.

This Norrington reading cannot live with the most consistently fêted versions of the Schumann symphony which have been for many years the analogue studio recordings on modern instruments by maestros Karajan with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra on DG 429 672-2 and Sawallisch with the Dresden State Orchestra on EMI CMS7 64815-2. With regard to digital competitors the most recommendable is undoubtedly the version by John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, using period instruments, on DG 457 591-2.

In conclusion, this release by Roger Norrington on Hänssler Classic is generally enjoyable and worthwhile particularly for the live reading of the ‘London’. However it must be said that the performance of the Schumann Second Symphony was fairly disappointing. If I wanted the best versions of both these symphonies I would clearly be looking to Thomas Fey with the Heidelberger Sinfoniker on Hänssler Classic for the Haydn and Gardiner with the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique on DG for the Schumann.


Michael Cookson


 


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J. HAYDN
Symphony No. 104
Adagio - Allegro
Andante
Menuet. Allegro
Finale. Spiritoso

R. SCHUMANN
Symphony No. 2 op. 61

Sostenuto assai - Allegro, ma non troppo
Scherzo. Allegro vivace
Adagio espressivo
Allegro molto vivace




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