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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
String Quartet op.3/5: 2. “Serenade” (arr. Tilling) [03:07] [actually by P. Roman HOFFSTETTER (1742-1815)] (1)
Divertimento for Orchestra no.3 [11:46] (2)
The Old Austrian People’s Hymn (arr. Tilling) [01:21] (1)
Variations in F minor [15:48] (3)
Symphony no.94 in G – “Surprise”: 2. Andante [07:08] (4)
Symphony no.104 in D – “London” [29:40] (5)
Graunke Symphony Orchestra/Kurt Graunke (1), Little Orchestra of London/Leslie Jones (2), Richard Tiling [or Tilling?] (piano) (3), Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra/Hans Natievsky [or Matievsky?] (4), London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult (5)
no rec. info
SOUNDS OF EXCELLENCE PLATINUM 05122 [68:09]

 


Well, this is a funny sort of disc. I suppose it’s not really the kind of release that usually gets into a critic’s hands at all, but my curiosity to hear Boult conducting Haydn led me to request it.

You will see from the cover scan that the selling-point is the “Surprise” Symphony. If you buy it for that without looking at the details on the back you’ll be in for a surprise when you get home, and not the one Haydn intended – only the slow movement is included!

If the idea was to introduce newcomers to the genius of Haydn, it would have been a good idea to start with something he really wrote. It was back in 1965 that Alan Tyson revealed that the op. 3 String Quartets were really the work of Hoffstetter and most recording companies have caught up with the news by now. While they were thought to be by Haydn this serenade was one of “his” most popular works and many people believed it to be a charming piece of music. Then it turned out not to be by Haydn and of course this meant that it was a rubbishy thing, not worth hearing at all. Those uninfluenced by the name of the composer might enjoy hearing it again, played in the old-fashioned way by a string orchestra. There’s lots of affectionate tonal shading of the sort that people used to think beautiful until Historically Informed Practice came along to teach them it wasn’t. Volume 13 of the Sounds of Excellence “200 Greatest Classics” series has this same recording under Hoffstetter’s name, by the way, so it’s not as if they didn’t know.

The Divertimento in F is a slightly specialized choice for the context, but it will certainly alert newcomers to Haydn’s exploration of unusual sonorities, especially in the first movement. It is well played and the recording is pleasant and clear. The three movements are given a single track. Leslie Jones and the Little Orchestra of London were familiar figures on the recording scene in the 1970s. They set down, among other things, a much-praised set of the Haydn London Symphonies and were the first to record Beethoven with scaled-down forces – Symphonies 1 and 8 on Unicorn. Their recording of the complete Haydn Divertimenti op.31 on two Oryx LPs – 1740-1 – was advertised in the October 1972 Gramophone and I presume this is the source for the present disc.

The “Old Austrian People’s Hymn” turns out to be the theme – without the variations – as it appears in the “Emperor” quartet. The transcription is a straightforward one for strings with some alterations to the cello part. It is played slowly and reverently, not really like a national anthem.

Kurt Graunke is a name that often crops up in these cheap reissues. Born in 1915, he founded the Graunke Symphony Orchestra after the Second World War and conducted it until 1989, when it became the Munich Symphony Orchestra. He composed 9 symphonies and did much film work, including some Walt Disney productions. A keen cyclist, he took part in a senior cycling contest at the age of 76. He died in 2005.

The name of Richard Tiling produces nothing of interest to the Googler unless he needs his floor redone, but Richard Tilling has quite a few discs to his name, including one dedicated to Chopin and various odds and ends in the “200 Greatest Classics” series ranging from Mozart to Satie. He is presumably also the arranger of the Serenade and Austrian Hymn. Or maybe not. This is evidently a pretty old recording, since headphone listening reveals a heavy LP surface – and some clicks towards the end – which has been de-noised fairly ruthlessly. Inevitably, the sound is synthetic and not very pleasant but the performance is straightforward and sympathetic. Any German reader with information about Tilling is invited to write to the bulletin board. In the November 1972 Gramophone Oryx announced the UK issue of the complete piano music of Haydn played by Artur Balsam and deriving from the Musical Heritage Society of New York. I have never heard these.

The only result of a Google search for Hans Natievsky is the present recording, but Hans Matievsky is more productive. An Oryx LP, no.17 in the Basic Record Library, had the Salzburg Mozart – not Mozarteum – Orchestra under Matievsky playing the Surprise Symphony – all of it – plus the Trumpet Concerto with André Barraud and the Italian Overture, whatever that is. This was advertised in the February 1974 Gramophone. I take it Platinum have information that the actual Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra was playing out of contract under a very thinly disguised pseudonym. As for Matievsky, your guess is as good as mine. The same team also recorded some Mozart, including two violin concertos with Tibor Varga, who was certainly real. Some of these Mozart performances have also resurfaced from Platinum. This single movement is played cleanly, seriously and unimaginatively.

You may be wondering by now if the Boult 104th is really his, but I think it is. It’s certainly by a conductor with firm ideas and no concern for scaled-down sonorities. There’s a sense of romantic awakening in the introduction and the Allegro begins very gently with an almost Elgarian nobility. The slowish tempo soon comes into its own since the violins are really digging into their faster figuration. Boult’s keen rhythmic sense ensures that, while it may be majestic, it is never heavy. Here and in the slow movement he really sees that all Haydn’s surprising harmonic twists register. The Minuet and Trio has a glorious Ländler-like swing. The finale is again slowish. The drone bass at the beginning is made to sound ominous, but there is soon a feeling of jubilation and I seemed to see Brueghel’s peasants dancing.

For a comparison I first tried Mögens Wöldike, a version that must be about contemporary under a conductor noted for his Haydn. He certainly provides a more bracing sort of energy at brisker tempi. He was less noted for his poetry and the slow movement seemed a bit plain beside Boult. Beecham’s LPO recording certainly could not be found plain. He is more concerned with elegance, his minuet evoking periwigged aristocrats. It is obviously very fine given its point of view.

Beecham was synonymous with Haydn for many British music lovers from the 30s to the early 60s. Michael Kennedy’s biography of Boult contains no reference to this recording and very few to his conducting Haydn at all. He did, however, include this symphony in a tour of Germany by the LPO in 1951. I get the idea his Haydn was potentially of more importance than his Mozart, which is slightly better documented. I don’t say he would have been better than Beecham but he could certainly have offered a very interesting alternative. He leaves you in no doubt that this is important music.

I suspect the recording may come from about the same time as the 1957 Vanguard Beethoven sessions, some of which have also appeared on Platinum. Like them, it’s in good enough stereo to show the violins all on the right, unusually for Boult, and the reverberation period is similarly long.

As I said, this is a funny sort of record, but Boult collectors will want to hear the symphony and if they think they are buying only that, they should find added value at least in the Divertimento.

Christopher Howell 

 


 


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