Haydn may be considered the master of
Classical-era symphonies. He wrote 106
of them, after all, and many are considered
among the finest of their time. Indeed,
Beethoven and Mozart both recognized
his genius in symphony composition,
and today his 12 "London"
symphonies are still considered masterworks
of music, among the highlights of music
of any era. These two symphonies, recorded
by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra,
were both written for his second visit
to London, in 1794, perhaps the period
of his most profound symphonic achievements.
If naught else, these certainly form
the capstone of his prodigious career,
and the pinnacle of his symphonic output.
Symphony 99 was the
only one of his London symphonies not
to have been written in England. Haydn
actually composed the work while at
home in Vienna before departing. The
work itself was very well received by
the public at its debut, and still stands
out as a brilliant work. It begins deliberately,
leading the listener through a tense
opening until it grows into a thematically
independent and exuberant main subject.
The second movement is considerably
more serious, and displays the genius
of late Haydn, especially in the woodwind
writing. The third movement returns
to the original key and feel, playing
with the symmetry of the composition
only in the trios. The finale is at
times tumultuous, at times exuberant,
and throughout playful.
Symphony 101 has its
name derived from the opening of the
second movement, which the London crowds
associated with the movement of a pendulum.
The four movement work is in every way
classical, and yet innovative inside
the constraints of form that Haydn imposed
upon himself. Indeed, it is considered
by some to be the greatest work of Haydn’s
While there have been
many recordings done in recent years
of Haydn’s work on period instruments,
here the symphony is more ‘normally’
equipped. This does not in any way diminish
the recording, or disparage the symphony.
Many, if not most, listeners will appreciate
the technical advantage that these instruments
give the modern player. The casual listener
would likely not notice a difference
unless played adjacently to a performance
on period instruments, and then one
suspects that a substantial group would
prefer the modern equipment anyway.
The recording is well done, with the
symphony skillfully employed and well
Conversely, there are
many very good recordings competing
with this currently, as it suddenly
became in vogue to record collections
of Haydn’s "London Symphonies"
in their entirety. As many of these
are also excellent recordings, and more
complete, it is a rare listener that
would have a reason to select this disc
over one of the more complete collections.
While this is certainly
an excellent recording of two of Haydn’s
most important and best symphonies,
there is little to differentiate it
in a somewhat cluttered market. Should
a listener have a particular fondness
for these symphonies, this would be
a welcome addition to their collection,
as the performances are indeed exquisite.
However, if the listener wants a collection
of Haydn’s symphonies, this will likely
become redundant in their collection
in short order.