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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphonies, Volume 27: No. 50 in C (1773) [18’53]; No. 51 in B flat (1771-3) [20’22]; No. 52 in C minor (1771-3) [24’18].
Swedish Chamber Orchestra/Béla Drahos. DDD
Rec. Örebro Concerto Hall, Sweden, on August 23rd-25th, 2000.
NAXOS 8.555324 [63’33]

Naxos continues its Haydn symphony series with Nos. 50-52. The cycle is being recorded by three orchestras – the present one, the Esterházy Sinfonia and the Northern Chamber Orchestra.

It is always interesting to hear lesser-known Haydn symphonies: it reminds one of the composer’s unfailing inventiveness. Nos. 50-52 date from the early 1770s. Of particular interest is No. 51 in B flat, with its perilous horn arts. The first horn is often high up in the stratosphere, while the second explores the depths of the instrument’s range. The vigour of the opening Vivace is nicely projected, but it is in the Adagio that the horn parts come into their own. The first horn is credited on the back cover (Bengt Olerås), and with some justification. His vibrato is tasteful, and he (somehow) manages not to scream his way up to the top notes, remaining instead in full control of his instrument. Agility is demonstrated in the Menuetto, which still remains cripplingly high. Exciting listening, certainly. The vigour of the Swedish forces is convincing, as is their robust approach to the finale.

Symphony No. 50 in C begins with a Maestoso introduction. The ensuing Allegro is pointed and lively, the phrasing appropriately suave on occasion. A pity the Andante moderato seems over-long, though. The performance is civilised, if on the pedestrian side – the players see to wake up more for the cheeky, perky Menuet (again, high horn parts provide quite a challenge).

No. 52 in C minor is a characteristically Sturm und Drang piece, restive and dramatic, with lots of energy on show in the first movement. The extended slow movement (at 9’16, the longest single movement on the disc) balances the events of the first; the vigour of the finale provides an uplifting close to the disc. The prevailing seriousness of intent casts its shadow over the Menuetto, which is subdued and almost melancholic in intent. The Swedish Chamber Orchestra responds by lavishing this movement with a great deal of care.

Throughout, Béla Drahos chooses convincing tempi. Textures are carefully balanced and everything is beautifully tailored in a generally non-inteventionist manner. Any one of these three symphonies will bring pleasure.

By the way, the attractive cover illustration, ‘Phileon and Baucis’ (c1500) by Bartolomeo Braantino (1450/55-1536) ties in nicely with the musical offerings: Haydn produced a piece of the same name that was contemporary with these symphonies (it has been suggested No. 50 was played around this time). A well-produced product, then, that should give a fair amount of pleasure as well as filling in a few gaps in the Haydn symphony department.


Colin Clarke

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