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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
The London Symphonies
Symphony No 93 in D major, Hob.I:93 (1791) [23:10]
Symphony No 94 in G major ‘Surprise’, Hob.I.94 (1791) [22:32]
Symphony No 95 in C minor, Hob.I:95 (1791) [19:34]
Symphony No 96 in D major, Hob.I:96 (1791) [21:37]
Symphony No 97 in C major, Hob.I:97 (1792) [23:44]
Symphony No 98 in B flat major, Hob.I:98 (1792) [25:21]
Symphony No 99 in E flat major, Hob.I:99 (1793) [25:27]
Symphony No 100 in D major ‘Military’, Hob.I:100 (1793/4) [21:23]
Symphony No 101 in D major ‘Clock’, Hob.I:101 (1793/4) [28:23]
Symphony No 102 in B flat major ‘Miracle’, Hob.I:102 (1794) [23:20]
Symphony No 103 in E flat major ‘Drumroll’, Hob.I:103 (1795) [30:22]
Symphony No 104 in D major ‘London’, Hob.I:104 (1795) [26:41]
Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons) (1801) [144:15]
Elsie Morrison (soprano) – Nancy
Alexander Young (tenor) – Lucas
Michael Langdon (bass) – Simon
Beecham Choral Society
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Beecham
rec. Salle Wagram, Paris and Abbey Road, London 1956-59
EMI CLASSICS 3 67893 2 [6 CDs: 65:22 + 70:41 + 77:08 + 78:23 + 72:08 + 72:07]
 


This is a case of three in one. A box set of Beecham’s Haydn containing the later symphonies and The Seasons is usually divided into two symphonic collections, symphonies 93-98 and 99-104 and The Seasons; though the latter only in the LP era. Matters are somewhat complicated because Somm has already issued The Seasons under their Beecham imprimatur, its first ever CD release, on Somm-Beecham 16-2 (see review). This is the form in which I reviewed it here back in 2004 though for ease of reading I’ve interpolated my comments into this text. There’s very little between the transfers; either is perfectly acceptable.
 
The Symphonies have received CD transfers of course and were long LP staples whether in single, or gatefold style. Plenty of performance practice water has flowed under the bridge and you will not look to the bold Bart’s corrupt late nineteenth century editions for any kind of fidelity. We may as well get the problems out of the way here and now. Repeats are largely eschewed; brass and percussion parts will not be recognisable in some passages, since there are illicit insertions. Dynamics and orchestration, the harpsichord in Symphony No.98 (missing) and rocking cadential passages – these will all arouse ire in some breasts. Tempi can veer between slow and stately and, in some finales, rocket-like. Not a Scherchen dichotomy, exactly, but a decidedly individualistic take on tempo relationships. So all this and more may count against Beecham. The Salle Wagram was not an ideal studio acoustic and those who have heard the rehearsal snippets from this location will know that rain also played its part, though fortunately not when it came to the master tapes. Muddiness however certainly did and the engineers never quite managed an optimum string/brass balance. So all these factors will weigh in the balance.
 
Still you’d have to be a terrible old stuffed shirt not to enjoy so much that is here. Listen to the care over wind balances in the first movement of No.98 or its warm cantabile slow movement. Yes, there are moments of over-nuanced string phrasing. I happen to find the Adagio cantabile opening of the Surprise rather over done, very much in the manner of his late Mozart symphonic recordings, with too much fussing and prodding. We know how assiduous Beecham was in marking parts, in blue-pencilling string phrasing; his affection sometimes led him to focus on a particular phrase rather than a longer line. Still the same symphony has an especially grand seigniorial Andante – auburn cellos and a properly audible percussion.
 
In the main the slow movements are taken at a stately tempo – as in the C minor No.95 – and Minuets are imbued with a pomposo element, very Beechamesque in fact. Swagger is never far away. The Miracle, once launched, erupts brilliantly. The grandiose adagio introduction to No.98 is a treat with its slow movement one of the most generously moving of the entire set - though characteristically he pushes hard in the finale. Buoyancy informs the later symphonies with No. 99’s slow movement wonderfully sustained. The Clock brings out his finery and wit, his fine sense of timing and projection. If the Minuet of No.102 seems far too slow Beecham does at least carry the conviction of his tempo to the bitter end and almost makes you capitulate. The final two symphonies are primarily notable for his remarkable sense of lyricism and poeticism, for the grandness of his conception, the security and excellence of the execution and the life affirming humanity of Beecham’s perception – the trio of No.104 is truly gorgeous.
 
Beecham's recording of The Seasons has not received as much critical attention as have his recordings of the Symphonies. This is the second ever CD reissue of this 1956-58 set (essentially 1956 but with patching sessions in March 1957 and April 1958). There are a number of Beechamesque idiosyncrasies; a 43 bar cut in the orchestral introduction and added bells and cymbals and percussive effects generally in Summer are noticeable as are the added huntsman's shots in Autumn. But the most obvious feature is Beecham's orchestration of the keyboard accompanied secco recitatives. He applied an analogous approach in his recording of Schumann's Manfred when he orchestrated Schumann's piano music to fit into the fabric of the score.
 
As can be heard from the live Berlioz that has emanated from around this time Beecham could still marshal large forces with verve and panache - and driving power into the bargain. Haydn was a favoured composer and though he seems only to have given one complete concert performance of The Seasons (Edinburgh, 1950) he did conduct isolated movements of the years; The Creation was invariably played more often. Beecham is on affectionate and sympathetic form throughout, relishes the twinkle-tinkle little star tune in Simon's Air Now fairly runs the farmer's boy (this is an English language performance), and moulds the Trio and Chorus in Spring Be now gracious with notable acumen. The orchestra is commendably rustic when required, the trombones flaring marvellously in the final Chorus and Trio of Spring, the hunting horns decisive and animated in Summer (No 12), flutes piping in the same movement's Recitative for Lucas’s The midday sun. We have a real sense of anticipation and dynamism in Lucas's You beauties of the Town (No. 27 - Autumn), a splendid drone effect in the Chorus Cheer Now! And plenty of lyric phrasing in Here stands the wand'rer now (No. 16 - Winter).
 
The Chorus is sometimes rather sluggish; listen to the men in their very first outing Come, gentle Spring when Spring takes quite some time coming, but otherwise sing stoutly and even nobly. Of the three soloists Elsie Morison takes the highest honours. Alexander Young was an estimable singer of course and his Handel memorable but he's not always quite steady - as in the recitative in Winter At his approach. Michael Langdon's voice tends to spread, an effect noticeable very early on in Spring's recitative From Aries rolls at last.
 
So maybe it’s time to consolidate your disparate Beecham-Haydn into one handy slim box. It won’t take up much space and will provide a lifetime of pleasure, excitement, enjoyment, bewilderment and bravura.
 
Jonathan Woolf
 

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