A dream comes true. I didn’t think I would ever home
my sights on a box of all Haydn’s symphonies that truly satisfies. Adam
Fischer’s is not the first integral set of Haydn’s 104 numbered symphonies
to appear, although his best fits the bill to my mind. It’s been an
ill-fated adventure. Max Goberman, forty years ago, and more, started
a cycle and died with 43 symphonies recorded. Antal Dorati, of course,
made gramophone history with his complete recording for Decca. Yet,
it’s of variable quality – Haydn needs a little more imagination than
Dorati was able to bring. The appearance on LP of Dorati’s versions
was concurrent with, and overshadowed, a cycle for Oryx conducted by
Ernst Märzendorfer, which I have never heard and to the best of
my knowledge has never appeared on CD (I would be grateful to hear if
any reader knows differently); and I’ve only seen one review, that of
Anthony Hodgson for "Records and Recording" in the ’seventies
when he compared it with Dorati; swings and roundabouts as I recall.
Then there are the historically-informed outfits. Roy Goodman got halfway
through his traversal for Hyperion when the plug was pulled, and Christopher
Hogwood’s Decca cycle has appeared in dribs and drabs. Whether Hogwood’s
will be completed is unclear; Naxos’s collection appears healthy in
comparison, although it’s not a venture I’ve followed wholesale. Then
there’s the present set, most of which has already appeared on Nimbus.
With one volume to go, Nimbus went under. Jinxed or what?
To those with the Nimbus boxes, the transfers of this
Brilliant Classics set are virtually indistinguishable from the previous
pressings. Indeed, from comparisons at random, I thought the new ones
marginally superior in terms of detail; this may have to do with there
being slightly less reverberation on the current pressings, which suits
me. Crescendos also seem slightly more vivid than previously – but I
stress there’s little in it. (Not always the case as EMI’s re-transfers
of Boult’s Vaughan Williams symphonies show; the original CD of No.5
being vastly preferable – compare the opening bars.) Those with Nimbus’s
CDs need have no fear in passing them on in favour of the new set and,
of course, the additional symphonies to complete the cycle.
There are, inevitably, many recordings of certain Haydn
symphonies – especially those bracketed ‘Paris’ (82-87) and ‘London’
(93-104). From these collectives, those symphonies (and others outside
these groups) bearing nicknames (not necessarily if at all labelled
by the composer himself!) have become especially popular and attracted
many conductors. These range from the gloriously old-fashioned and inauthentic
to those with every ‘I’ dotted and ‘T’ crossed in ‘period’ conceptions
that can have as much life as a dull, dusty lecture on the subject.
And as for those nasal-sounding old instruments … the development of
instrument-production surely sought to eradicate this. Notable exceptions
are Frans Brüggen (Philips) using ‘original’ instruments and Sir
Charles Mackerras (Telarc), combining modern ones with ‘authentic’ manners,
and some élan and affection. Of Harnoncourt (Teldec) I’m less
certain – always interesting certainly.
You’ll have spotted I’m not a fan of the ‘authentic’
movement. To be precise, it’s the tone that puts me off. The lessons
learnt relating to tempi, phrasing et al are invaluable but are
not at odds with ‘modern’ orchestras. You can ask the timpanist to use
hard sticks, you can request the strings to play with minimal or no
vibrato, you can make woodwind and brass equal voices with the strings,
which you can reduce in numbers. There are so many possibilities.
Essentially this is what Adam Fischer does with his
contemporary band, and he has the necessary fancy, regard and instinct
for Haydn’s music. He has in the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra a
group of players who speak Haydn’s language – the band constituted from
members of the Vienna Philharmonic and Symphony Orchestras and the Hungarian
State Symphony Orchestra. Moreover, all the recordings were made in
Haydn’s own territory, the Esterházy Palace in Eisenstadt, Austria.
A sense of its grandeur is generally well conveyed in these recordings.
Successive members of the Esterházy family, most notably Prince
Nikolaus, employed Haydn, not only as a composer but also as a music
director. His association was effectively lifelong. The astonishing
catalogue of symphonies, string quartets, opera, oratorio and religious
works owes much to the Prince’s musical requirements. Haydn developed
musical forms, especially the symphony and quartet, and although he
enjoyed travel in his later years and accepted commissions from overseas
– the ‘London’ symphonies were at the behest of the London impresario
J.P. Salomon for example – Haydn’s close identity with the Esterházy
family and its estate is permanent.
Haydn became known as "the father of the symphony",
an apposite epithet. One has only to hear the opening of Symphony No.1
and the ‘Finale’ of 104 to realise how far Haydn took the symphony as
a form. His remarkable ability to invent ideas and his ceaseless imagination
in developing them can best be described as awesome. In short, every
Haydn symphony has something to offer.
Alfred Brendel has remarked on the genius of Haydn
(1732-1809) and Liszt. He feels there is a chance with Haydn because
at least other people recognise his stature. Yet the appreciation of
Haydn needs to be widened beyond those symphonies that are popular.
The sheer diversity of Haydn’s music is without parallel. The tunes,
the song and dance, the pathos, wit, minor-key deliberation and major-key
jubilation, the phrasal beauty of the slow movements and the sparkle
of the finales, the twists and turns, the jokes, the seriousness, and
the fresh takes on structure and form. Each symphony is a new adventure,
each movement intriguing and without precedent.
This box of 33 CDs (recorded between 1987 and 2001)
contains the 104 numbered symphonies plus those termed ‘A’ and ‘B’ by
H.C. Robbins Landon – Haydn guru – and the Sinfonia Concertante,
sometimes referred to as ‘No.105’. Having made his choice of ‘Finale’
for No.53, Fischer does not offer the other three alternatives, nor
the different final movement for ‘103’, nor alternate versions of symphonies
22 and 63. A shame.
And while I’m listing the disappointments, I’m amazed
that Fischer doesn’t opt for antiphonal violins – the music was designed
for such exchanges of dialogue, and the loss of this important feature
is a real pity. Leonard Slatkin on his underrated Philharmonia Orchestra
recordings of the ‘London’ symphonies (RCA) has the strings so disposed;
he is therefore more factual than Fischer in this regard. The first
movement exposition of No.98 is a good place to compare, and reports
that string interaction is more acute from the American. Also the recorded
sound in 101 and 103 for Fischer is diabolical – distant and monochrome,
almost an echo of a performance from Haydn’s own time!
Fortunately this isn’t typical of the sound in general,
which is good overall. Indeed the most recent recordings are excellent
– present and detailed with warmth, space and detail judiciously balanced.
More explicitness between the string desks would have been an advantage
though. Nor do I hear many if any edits. Each movement sounds like a
complete take. This enhances the renditions’ spontaneity although there
are few dropped stitches and some ensemble imprecision along the way,
which I don’t think is particularly important given the musicians’ focus.
Strictures out of the way, I can only have praise for
Fischer and his Orchestra. Haydn’s invention flies off the page and
it’s incredible to think that combined with his ‘day job’ chez Esterházy,
Haydn produced so much great, developmental and influential music. These
vital performances suggest the ink is barely dry on the manuscripts.
Fischer’s orchestra relishes the music’s bravura – with plenty of solo
opportunities – and is equally sympathetic to gracefulness, exuberance
and timbral variegation. Instrumental clarity is as excellent as the
acoustic allows, Fischer skilfully clarifying inner parts and decoration,
not least timpani, which are too much like cannon shots at times if
exemplary in revealing rhythmic patterns. Dynamic contrasts are vivid,
and solo work is full of character. The horn playing is often astonishing
– what virtuosos Haydn must have had given that valves were a device
of the future.
The 33 CDs present the symphonies in number, if not
chronological order. Accepting No.1 at face value, it’s not a bad start
to Haydn’s symphonic career! A startling crescendo to carousing horns
announces Haydn to the world – fresh, vigorous and talented. A harpsichord
is present, as for all the early works – three- and four-movement affairs
– and will feature again in such ‘serious’ works as ‘La Passione’ (No.49),
a zest of colour for the cloistered (slow) opening movement. What though
of No.98, where the harpsichord has a solo near the end? Fischer opts
not to have it playing elsewhere – thus it emerges as a blast from Haydn’s
Unpredictability is a key word when describing Haydn’s
music. Whether it is how he develops an idea, introduces particular
coloration, stretches or concentrates form – each symphony has something
unexpected; utterly captivating. Symphony No.3, in four movements, is
music of import and searching, while Symphony No.5 begins with a slow
movement. Symphonies 6-8 each have descriptive titles – ‘Le Matin’,
‘Le Midi’ and ‘Le Soir’ – and here Haydn finds his true voice while
suggesting varied moods and providing principal players with opportunities
This is a good place to mention Minuets given the stern
one in No.8. Dance-like of course, not all Haydn’s examples suggest
chandeliers and ball-gowns, and certainly not given Fischer’s spanking
tempos, although he can suggest something grand when he is minded to.
Trios are varied too – rustic, sweetly lyrical, shadowy … you name it,
you’ve got a 1 in 105 chance of finding it (the Sinfonia Concertante
and Symphony ‘A’ are Minuet-less)! Fischer’s hesitations and emphases,
just teasing the dance, is welcome and characterful embellishment. Similar
chutzpah can be found elsewhere. The ‘Finale’ of No.89 a good place
Fischer doesn’t follow authenticity by playing Minuet
da capos twice through again. Indeed, he’s inconsistent with repeats
– slow movements sometimes have both halves repeated, sometimes not
(where marked to be so of course) but all first-time repeats are in
place. And how often the word ‘cantabile’ features as a marking in those
slow movements. This lyric quality is at the heart of Haydn’s expression,
and there’s no lack of support from Fischer in this respect. Try the
opening ‘Adagio cantabile’ of No.11, just gorgeous, or the slow-fast-slow
beginning to No.15, the ‘slow’ absolutely delightful in its siciliano-like
Cards on the table. Haydn is one of the supreme composers.
Each and every one of these symphonies has something to offer. The sheer
variety is incredible. And this is real music; entertaining in terms
of the music’s surface and ideas. This is also music for the connoisseur,
the person who is alive to incident and musical daring and to how a
composer can find something new to say with each movement undertaken.
I suggest everything Haydn penned is new-sounding –
yet No.69 opens with reminiscence to the beginning of No.48. Conscious
or not, that’s a strange moment! Otherwise, the freshness of invention
is mind-boggling and so memorable. All the symphonies require focused
and concentrated listening – blink and you’ll miss something.
Surprisingly the festive No.48, ‘Maria Theresia’, is
included in the ‘Stürm und Drang’ (Storm and Stress) series, nineteen
symphonies from Nos.26 and 65 dated between 1766-1773. Intimating to
but not wholly aligned to the contemporary German literary movement
of the same name, these symphonies, including the wonderful No.44 (‘Mourning’),
are dramatic, and display greater emotional intensity. Indeed, No.44
is a study in naked emotion, its anguish intensified here by the heart-stabbing
oboe timbre; the melancholy ‘Minuet’ and the indelible melody of the
slow movement encased by driving fast movements – riveting. No.45 is
the famous ‘Farewell’ – in the ‘Finale’ the textures are gradually diminished
until only the lead-violinist remains. Haydn’s orchestra needed a holiday.
This was his way of telling their employer, who took the hint!
Then there are the symphonies that seem more consciously
experimental – the opening ‘Allegro’ of No.16 for example, staccato,
trill and refrain fashioned into sonata form. High horns, blazing thrillingly
at the top of the stave, militaristic timpani, droll woodwind commentaries
– these are all part of Haydn’s ingredients that Fischer loves presenting,
his musicians in cohorts. A pair of cors anglais grace the opening ‘Adagio’
of No.22, ‘The Philosopher’, and I’m opened-mouthed at the music’s expressive
dimension that seems to look forward to Wagner’s Parsifal. I
recall an astonishing account I heard of this from Paul Sacher, which
reminds of me of a memorable No.28 under Gennadi Rozhdestvensky and
No.75 from Sir Charles Groves. Diverse conductors and a prompting that
Haydn is for everybody – with ears and intelligence that is – not just
for closet authenticists.
With all the symphonies now listened to – and some
were new to even this Haydn devotee – one can now anticipate slow movements
with solo lines of rare beauty – for horn, flute and cello – and appreciate
that movements are sometimes for cognoscenti, form and content indivisible,
and that an intentional popular cut with a folksong or a pastoral lilt
widens the appeal. There is something onomatopoeic too, hence those
nicknames (‘The Hen’, ‘The Bear’), and various moods and effects that
have been taken as extra-musical. Strange how in No.55 (‘The Schoolmaster’)
one does indeed visualise a pedagogue – gown and mortar board the garb.
I think it’s to do with wisdom distilled through music.
In contrast there’s Haydn’s purely musical ability
as to how an idea, initially integral to a bigger one, is given a life
of its own and allowed its own space. Have I mentioned yet the harmonic
richness, exceptionally lovely modulations and Haydn’s ability to make
conventional cadences interesting?
The ‘Adagio’ of No.61 – a wondrous symphony – the Morse-code
opening to No.70, the unison beginning of No.71 where Beethovenian force
is calmed by graceful figures, the use of pizzicato in No.57’s slow
movement, or the echo effects in No.38’s ‘Andante molto’ – the symphony
known as ‘Echo’! These are just some of the features. And while Haydn
had immense musical intellect, and today might be described as a ‘nice
guy’, he clearly had real soul – the anguished No.44 may not be wholly
typical of him, yet there is much that touches the heart throughout
and there’s no lack of passionate outbursts – the ‘Finale’ of No.87
for example, the last of the ‘Paris’ symphonies.
The ‘Paris’ sextet are absolute pinnacles and among
Haydn’s greatest achievements. Brüggen to Sanderling offer recorded
diversity, Karajan and Bernstein another contrast; Ansermet’s set is
listed in Decca’s catalogue but has to be imported – well worth it though.
Fischer’s are among the best – insouciant, ceremonial, regal, jolly,
serene, deft and lofty: just like the music!
Symphonies 88-92 tend to be overlooked, although the
bookend ones are more popular – being known respectively as ‘Letter
V’ and ‘Oxford’ perhaps helps – but 89-91 are staggering pieces, brimful
of sumptuous invention … and a good joke too with the false ending of
No.90. Fischer opts for not playing the second half twice, thus not
repeating Haydn’s prank. Probably right.
Reaching No.91 reminds me that sometimes there are
other recorded performances that hold sway. Colin Davis in this symphony
is wonderful (Philips), Celibidache in 92 (his slow movement is sublime,
EMI), and there’s also a scorching account of 92 newly re-issued in
Japan under Willem van Otterloo (Philips). I wouldn’t want to be without
the selection that Klemperer recorded either for EMI. Fischer’s is a
package, all or nothing, and the ‘all’, as I explained earlier, has
been among my prime musical targets.
So to the twelve symphonies for London, only No.104
called ‘London’. Again the titled ones overshadow those only with numbers
and keys. No.99 (1793, Haydn had turned 60), its opening E flat chord
reminding of Mozart 39 (Mozart dead at 35 two years previously) and
the ‘Emperor’ (Beethoven aged 22, the fifth concerto fifteen years away),
is one of the grandest and greatest in Haydn’s symphonic canon, the
slow movement heavenly. While this group of symphonies is perhaps more
sober, more classical than their ‘Paris’ counterparts, the charm of
93 – with its ‘rude’ bassoon note at the end of the slow movement –
and the ‘Turkish’ percussion in the ‘Military’ (No.100) continue to
display Haydn’s relish of the new. Nor does Haydn overlook rusticity
or country bumpkins with his move to ‘the smoke’
At the beginning of No.103 (‘Drum Roll’) Fischer surprisingly
has crescendo-diminuendo for the timpani introduction, the ‘old’ way
of doing it, and rather tame too. Mackerras opts for forte-diminuendo,
a more arresting opening, and more convincing than Harnoncourt’s separate-note
tattoo that seems more whimsy than anything Haydn actually intended.
But then editions of Haydn’s symphonies do reveal differences – mentioning
no names, I recall being at a recording session where the conductor
and producer were working from different publications of the same symphony,
which was quite amusing at times! And don’t be caught out by the slow
movement of No.98 – whether Haydn meant the allusion to our National
Anthem I know not, but there is a compulsion to stand at this point!
A more subtle ‘surprise’ than the crashing chord in No.94’s ‘Andante’,
here given due impact.
The final movement of No.104, a glorious culmination
to Haydn’s symphonic career – he went on to write The Creation, The
Seasons and six Mass settings! – is just a tad too quick from Fischer.
The music needs to be more emphatic in terms of arrival, and the ‘lift’
that introduces the final bars isn’t quite as telling here as Hans Rosbaud’s
Berlin Phil recording currently residing on DG 457 720-2 or Michael
Gielen’s Baden-Baden account on Intercord. Fischer though is imposing
enough to suggest one door closing and another opening – the new star’s
name on the dressing-room door is that of Ludwig van Beethoven. Five
years would pass until he produced his symphonic debut in 1800.
So nothing routine or stuck in a groove where Haydn
is concerned – as true of the performances as the music itself – music
and musicians made for each other, reservations aside. Speaking as someone
who loves music for what it is and what it is intrinsically capable
of, not necessarily what it may or may not be about, Haydn’s scores
seem so relevant, so engaging – timeless. Haydn didn’t seem to start
anything he couldn’t finish. Wit, imagination and dexterity get him
to the end in an enticingly unpredictable way, from pathos to hilarity.
For the latter try the ‘square dance’ violin tuning in the ‘Finale’
of the six-movement No.60.
Ultimately, I just bow my head to Joseph Haydn’s genius
and thank the current performers for putting so much energy and perception
into this life-enhancing project.
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