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
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.
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
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
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
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.