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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphonies: Volume 32
Symphony No. 9 in C (1762) [12:09]
Symphony No. 10 in D (c. 1760) [13:55]
Symphony No. 11 in E-flat (c.1760) [17:28]
Symphony No. 12 in E (1763) [16:40]
Sinfonia Finlandia/Patrick Gallois
rec. Suolahti Concert Hall, Suolahti, Finland, 15-18 February 2005. DDD.
Booklet with notes in English and German.
NAXOS 8.557771 [60:12] 

 


Naxos must surely be nearing the end of the road of their Haydn Symphony cycle with this, the 32nd in the series. Most of the CDs have contained three symphonies, some four or five, which means a total of at least 100 of Haydn’s 104 ‘regular’ symphonies. I don’t recall any of the ‘extra’ symphonies being included so far. 

Most of these Naxos recordings have been at least well worth considering. The previous volume (31), featuring Symphonies 18-21 with the Toronto Chamber Orchestra under Kevin Mallon, was favourably reviewed by my fellow Musicweb reviewer Glyn Pursglove. My own last encounter was with Volume 30 (Symphonies 14-17), also directed by Mallon, which I thoroughly enjoyed. 

The Sinfonia Finlandia under Patrick Gallois last appeared in Symphonies 1-5 (Volume 29), when they received a decent recommendation on Musicweb from Christopher Howell and a slightly cooler one from Gary Higginson. Neither exactly went over the top in his praise and GH clearly preferred the Hanover Band versions conducted by Roy Goodman on Hyperion Helios, in the same bargain price-range. My own reaction to these new versions of Symphonies 9-12 is similar to GH’s : “perfectly acceptable and (with) many good points and fine moments.” If I heard performances of this quality on Radio 3’s afternoon concert, played by one of the BBC regional orchestras, I should be perfectly happy, especially if the sound was as good on this Naxos CD.

The earlier CD had a very prominent harpsichord part which, it was generally agreed, was the major drawback of the disc. The question of whether Haydn himself directed from the keyboard or the violin has not been satisfactorily decided, though there is a clear case for including the harpsichord, even in the London Symphonies. No.98 contains a brief solo part for the harpsichord, one of Haydn’s jokes, often destroyed in modern performances by reassigning the part to the violin. The joke would have been pointless if the keyboard player had not been beavering away, practically inaudibly, throughout the symphony. But that is the point: where it is employed, the harpsichord should be barely audible, not raised to pseudo-solo proportions, except when Haydn is in joking mood. 

On the new recording the harpsichord is mostly absent – as I think – or, at apposite moments, just audible. I’d like to believe that my fellow-reviewers had influenced the decision, but these recordings were made almost a year before the Musicweb reviews or any others that I have been able to trace. It must simply be that wiser counsels prevailed. 

The music on this new CD is, of course, early but, as CH and GH point out in their reviews of Symphonies 1-5, Haydn’s symphonies are all worth hearing, even the earliest. Indeed, Nos.6-8, nicknamed Morning, Noon and Night, have become celebrities and have been frequently recorded. The note on the back of the CD is wrong to suggest that Nos.9-12 were all written for the Esterházy family: Nos. 10 and 11 date from his earlier employment with Count Morzin. 

Nos. 9, 10 and 12 are in three movements; only No.11 has the four-movement form which Haydn himself was to establish as the symphonic norm, and even there the slow movement is placed first in the manner of the old-fashioned sonata da chiesa, an adagio cantabile, scored for horns, strings and continuo. Presumably Haydn was still experimenting with symphonic form. No.9 is more like an overture, fast-slow-fast, with a minuet as finale: the Haydn scholar H.C. Robbins Landon suggests that it was, indeed, originally an overture. 10 and 12 dispense with the customary minuet. 

For this variety alone the music would be well worth hearing; in fact, these works are little, if at all, inferior, to Nos.6-8. Unless you are looking for the drama of the middle-period Sturm und Drang symphonies, this would be as good a place as any to begin to get to know early Haydn, except that I slightly prefer the more stylish performances of Kevin Mallon and the Toronto Camerata of Symphonies 14-17 on Naxos 8.557656: though the Camerata is not a period ensemble, Mallon imports period-performance practice into his recordings. He founded the period-instrument Aradia Ensemble, with whom he has made a number of Naxos recordings. Like Jonathan Woolf, I find Mallon’s performances of Nos. 14-17 consistently enjoyable. Like Jonathan Woolf, too, I find Roy Goodman’s period-instrument performances of early Haydn preferable to those on the present CD. 

The Hanover Band/Goodman versions of these symphonies, identically coupled, on Hyperion Helios (CDH55113) offer more than eight extra minutes music in total. This is not because Goodman’s tempi are slow – he paces the music very similarly to Gallois – but because he is a little more generous in the matter of repeats. 

Comparisons between period-instrument performances like the Goodman and modern-instrument ones like the Gallois are not always apposite. A fairer comparison would be with the Philharmonia Hungarica recordings under Antal Dorati. Were these Dorati recordings still available in smaller packages, their versions of these early symphonies would be well worth considering. Nos. 1-15 used to be available as a 4-CD set (425 900-2) with 9-12 on the third CD, well worth buying if you see it anywhere. 

European Eloquence have two Dorati CDs of named symphonies in the catalogue and Australian Eloquence have reissued his CD of Haydn minuets. I suppose it is out of the question to expect some of the early symphonies from either of these sources, or as a Decca twofer? 

I have several of the 4-CD boxes from the Dorati series but have always managed to resist purchasing the 33-CD complete set, even at bargain price. There are so many valid approaches to Haydn that it is unwise to place all your eggs in one basket. Even in the London symphonies, the excellent Colin Davis recordings (on two Philips Duos) deserve to be supplemented by other versions. If forced to choose just one interpreter for the whole of Haydn, I suppose that Dorati would have to be my first choice, especially in the early and mid-period symphonies. Throughout the four symphonies on the new Naxos CD I found myself preferring Dorati by a small margin: only in respect of the discrete harpsichord did I find Gallois the more stylish. 

Dorati’s approach is broadly similar to Gallois’s and the two ensembles are presumably similar in size, though the booklet does not specify the size of the Sinfonia Finlandia – the Naxos booklet for Nos.14-17 gives the precise makeup of the Toronto Camerata on that disc. The rather forward recording gives the impression that the Sinfonia is a larger orchestra than Dorati’s. The drawback of this is that, whereas Dorati achieves some really stylishly quiet playing at times, Gallois tends to come over all at one level and his tempi are generally faster than Dorati’s. The Finale of No.9 is a case in point: indeed, Gallois sounds a little hurried throughout this symphony. 

In the third movement, adagio, of No.12, the boot is on the other foot. Whereas in the outer movements of this symphony Gallois is faster than Dorati, in the adagio Gallois is noticeably slower. As a result the movement sounds more like one of Haydn’s Sturm und Drang symphonies. One could argue that, having said that even the early symphonies show surprising maturity, I should not reject such an approach to this movement – remember that this is the latest of the symphonies on the CD, dating from 1763 – but Dorati’s tempo strikes me as more appropriate: still recognisably adagio and with plenty of feeling but without the degree of exaggeration that I find from Gallois. The impression which the two recordings give that the Philharmonia Hungarica is a smaller, lither ensemble and the extra inner detail which the Decca recording captures – remarkable for a 1972 ADD recording – help to make the Dorati preferable. 

Dorati and Gallois both end their CDs with lively versions of the presto finale of No.12 but, whereas Gallois tends to squeeze a little too much out of the adagio, his version of the finale is more rushed than that of Dorati, who gives the music time to breathe and, therefore, sounds a degree more stylish. Once again, the brighter, lighter Decca sound helps: though the Naxos recording is perfectly acceptable, in a blind test I would probably have guessed the Naxos as ADD and the Decca as DDD. 

Having played the CD perfectly happy once, my Arcam Solo subsequently refused to recognise it, a problem I have encountered once before with a Naxos CD. The Arcam is very choosy – it will play Audio CDRs but not computer-burned CDRs. Fortunately my Marantz deck and my Yamaha CD/HD machine were happy to oblige. Apart from this, and the tendency to make the ensemble sound a little too large, the recording is fine. 

Keith Anderson is his usual informative self in the notes, though I could wish that half the notes were not taken up with repetition of the same biographical details that appeared in Volume 31 and all the preceding volumes. 

Naxos seem to have an unending supply of eighteenth-century Austrian paintings for their Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven recordings; the one on this CD, of the lawn outside a brewery near Vienna is not one of their very best.

Brian Wilson
 

 

 


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