> Joseph Haydn - The Complete Symphonies [AT]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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There are two pictures of Adam Fischer in the booklet accompanying this massive set. One, taken before the odyssey, of a dapper young man in tails with the cut of a maestro about him. The second is at the end of the project – a dishevelled old bloke in civvies with what little hair he has left flapping all over the place. Fourteen years of Haydn does that to a man. But there is a glint in the eyes of the second man. That face has been shaped by a lot of laughter : perhaps the big grin in the photograph is permanent. This is the marvel of the great treasure trove of Haydn symphonies – that in their comedy, their eccentricities, their surprises, their deviant moments, they are a joy to get to know.

Which is why it is a pity that there are not more complete sets about. The reason is obviously the effort involved in recording 104 symphonies. This project took fourteen years to complete, which is a lot for conductors, record companies (the original label, Nimbus, has since gone bust) and orchestras to invest. In this case, the conductor is obviously addicted and committed to the body of symphonies, and the project is the orchestra’s raison d’être.

The Austro Hungarian Haydn Orchestra, founded by Adam Fischer especially for this project, has proved to be a remarkably consistent body for what was a seasonal band. I tried playing "guess the year" a few times from listening to the symphonies, and so consistent was the playing that it was impossible to tell. Part of the reason is that the players, drawn from orchestras in Vienna and Budapest are top notch. None are named, but to indicate the standard, the bassoonist Michael Werba, who plays in the Sinfonia Concertante is a member of the Vienna Philharmonic and has made a very fine recording of the Mozart Concerto. Like all the wind players, his playing is always clear and full-toned. Another reason is the recording venue: the Haydnsaal in the Esterházy palace – a wonderfully evocative venue with an acoustic that is perhaps over-generous, but no serious hindrance to enjoyment of these performances.

The style of the orchestra is markedly traditional. It must have been a courageous decision to start a Haydn project with a traditional orchestra at the height of the period instrument movement, but it is not one that has been shown to be mistaken. For all the fullness of sound, it could not be said that the wind parts are covered, or the string textures too muddy. Indeed the string playing is extremely clean, with beautiful string ensemble. Perhaps it would have been lighter on period instruments, but not necessarily more virtuous: in his later symphonies in particular Haydn was searching for a more blended sonority, and achieving it on modern instruments is no crime. My only quibble with the set-up of the band is the lack of dynamics in the very early symphonies, presumably due to the small set-up. But Haydn was fastidious in his dynamic markings, and there is no reason why a band the same as for the London symphonies would have been inappropriate.

There are many things in the playing style to admire. There is a real feeling for the music of Haydn, and a great character about the orchestra, in terms of sonority with its plangent Viennese oboes, and in terms of discourse with its accents and rubatos: what Fischer calls its "local dialect." Unfortunately, some of these characteristics also turn out to be drawbacks. They cannot play an appoggiatura without heavily accenting the dissonant note, even at the expense of the momentum of the music, sometimes confusing the natural order of strong and weak beats within the bar. According to Charles Rosen, "even a quick comparison of one of Haydn’s symphonies with a solo sonata will show that the symphony avoids all those effects which require the individual nuances and refinements of rubato." In fairness to Fischer, his tempos are always extremely natural, and rubato is reserved mainly for the minuets, but there are times (for example, the presto of no.15) when it intrudes on the unfolding of the music.

However, let us not dwell on the drawbacks – they are not fatal. Listening to other orchestras on disc, say the recent Naxos recording with the Cologne Chamber Orchestra or the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, I can think of few that I would prefer to listen to over the course of a whole set.

Perhaps the biggest single virtue of this set is that it exists. For the glory of the symphonies is in the surprises, the deviations from convention, the experiments, the development of his language. Whilst in the service of Prince Esterházy he was writing for an extremely discerning audience who recognised the conventions of sonata form and were amused when Haydn confounded their expectations. Hence all the magical effects that are included in the scores. Hearing the same orchestra under the same baton neutralises the peculiarities of the performers and provides a frame of reference that points up the peculiarities of the writing, of which there are an almost inexhaustible number: sonatas da chiesa, slow introductions, bizarre combinations of instruments, movements in three tempos, the list goes on. As trite as it sounds, a set that plays all the right notes at the right speed with a nice sound will bring these out beautifully. This is why, in my opinion, this Fischer project is superior to its most obvious rival, the famous complete set by Antal Dorati and the Philharmonia Hungarica. For all its excellent musicianship, that one is let down by some dodgy playing and unnatural minuets. The Fischer set is without maddening eccentricities and can be recommended for the long haul.

Granted, many of the symphonies have received better performances elsewhere. The recording of the farewell Symphony (45), for example, by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra is stunningly good, but this one reminds us of its place amongst the Sturm und Drang symphonies. Simon Rattle’s recording of no. 22 is amazing, with its spare, Webern-like textures, and is better played than the one here, but hearing it amongst the others shows what a strange effect Haydn intended by scoring two cor anglais instead of two oboes. In this set the magic is Haydn’s, in the isolated recording it is Rattle’s.

The early symphonies will for many listeners offer great discoveries. I had no idea that Haydn used a fugal ending as early as his third symphony. Each work is a little laboratory – the effects that would be incorporated into the musical structure are still slightly tacked on to the early works, but the orchestra tackle these with as much enthusiasm and commitment as the late great works. I especially love the performances of numbers 13 and 25, both full of vim and immaculately played. The symphonies from 41 to 49 are amongst the finest of all, and here they are joyously good. It must be said that the quality dips towards the end of the Esterházy years, as Haydn’s duties tended towards opera.

The late symphonies are where it is hardest to justify these performances against the competition, mainly because the Paris and London symphonies are so much more recorded than all the others, most notably by Colin Davis. These could not said to be the finest recordings on disc, but they are not embarrassed in any company, and at the end of such a glorious apprenticeship, they do have the feeling of the culmination of a great life’s work. With added generosity, the Sinfonia Concertante for violin, cello, oboe and bassoon is included, in a wonderfully characterful performance.

Strangely, music lovers seem to take Haydn for granted. I can think of no other composer with such a large gap between his musical achievement and his public appreciation. This set is a very great step towards educating us all in this clever, profound, pioneering, but most of all, wonderfully joyous music, and is one I shall return to again and again and again. With its consistently good playing and natural manner, it is one that I recommend without any hesitation.

Aidan Twomey

See also review by Peter Lawson


Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
The Complete Symphonies

CD1 – recorded June 1990 [76.45]
Symphony No 1 in D major, Hob.I:1 (1759)
Symphony No 2 in C major, Hob.I:2 (1764)
Symphony No 3 in G major, Hob.I:3 (1762)
Symphony No 4 in D major, Hob.I:4 (1762)
Symphony No 5 in A major, Hob.I:5 (1762)
CD2 – recorded April 1989 [70.02]
Symphony No 6 in D major ‘Le Matin’, Hob.I:6 (1761)
Symphony No 7 in D major ‘Le Midi’, Hob.I:7 (1761)
Symphony No 8 in G major ‘Le Soir’, Hob.I:8 (1761)
CD3 – recorded June 1990 [70.08]
Symphony No 9 in C major, Hob.I:9 (1762)
Symphony No 10 in D major, Hob.I:10 (1766)
Symphony No 11 in E flat major, Hob.I:11 (1769)
Symphony No 12 in E major, Hob.I:12 (1763)
CD4 – recorded April 1991 [65.23]
Symphony No 13 in D major, Hob.I:13 (1763)
Symphony No 14 in A major, Hob.I:14 (1764)
Symphony No 15 in A major, Hob.I:15 (1764)
Symphony No 16 in B flat major, Hob.I:16 (1766)
CD5 – recorded April 1991 (Nos 17/18) and May 1991 (Nos 19/20) [53.50]
Symphony No 17 in D major, Hob.I:17 (1765)
Symphony No 18 in G major, Hob.I:18 (1766)
Symphony No 19 in D major, Hob.I:19 (1766)
Symphony No 20 in C major, Hob.I:20 (1766)
CD6 – recorded April 1989 (Nos 22/24) and June 2000 (Nos 21/23) [68.50]
Symphony No 21 in A major, Hob.I:21 (1764)
Symphony No 22 in E flat major ‘The Philosopher’, Hob.I:22 (1764)
Symphony No 23 in G major, Hob.I:23 (1764)
Symphony No 24 in D major, Hob.I:24 (1764)
CD7 – recorded June 1989 (No 27), September 1990 (No 25) and June 2000 (Nos 26/28) [76.15]
Symphony No 25 in C major, Hob.I:25 (1766)
Symphony No 26 in D minor ‘Lamentatione’, Hob.I:26 (1770)
Symphony No 27 in G major, Hob.I:27 (1766)
Symphony No 28 in A major, Hob.I:28 (1765)
Symphony No 29 in E major, Hob.I:29 (1765)
CD8 – recorded April 2001 (Nos 30-32) and May 2001 (No 33) [69.30]
Symphony No 30 in C major ‘Alleluja’, Hob.I:30 (1765)
Symphony No 31 in D major ‘Hornsignal’, Hob.I:31 (1765)
Symphony No 32 in C major, Hob.I:32 (1766)
Symphony No 33 in C major, Hob.I:33 (1767)
CD9 – recorded May 2001 [62.17]
Symphony No 34 in D major, Hob.I:34 (1767)
Symphony No 35 in B flat major, Hob.I:35 (1767)
Symphony No 36 in E flat major, Hob.I:36 (1769)
Symphony No 37 in C major, Hob.I:37 (1758)
CD10 – recorded June 2000 ('A' and 'B') and May 2001 (Nos 38/39) [57.45]
Symphony No 38 in C major, Hob.I:38 (1769)
Symphony No 39 in G minor, Hob.I:39 (1770)
Symphony 'A' in B flat major, Hob.I:107 (1762)
Symphony 'B' in B flat major, Hob.I:108 (1765)
CD11 – recorded May 1991 (No 40), June 1994 (No 42) and June 1995 (No 41) [62.14]
Symphony No 40 in F major, Hob.I:40 (1763)
Symphony No 41 in C major, Hob.I:41 (1770)
Symphony No 42 in D major, Hob.I:42 (1771)
CD12 – recorded September 1988 (No 45) and June 1994 (Nos 43/44) [73.11]
Symphony No 43 in E flat major ‘Mercury’, Hob.I:43 (1772)
Symphony No 44 in E minor ‘Trauersymphonie’, Hob.I:44 (1772)
Symphony No 45 in F sharp minor ‘Farewell’, Hob.I:45 (1772)
CD13 – recorded June 1995 [64.16]
Symphony No 46 in B major, Hob.I:46 (1772)
Symphony No 47 in G major, Hob.I:47 (1772)
Symphony No 48 in C major ‘Maria Theresia’, Hob.I:48 (1769)
CD14 – recorded June 1994 (No 51) and June 1995 (Nos 49/50) [59.20]
Symphony No 49 in F minor ‘La Passione’, Hob.I:49 (1768)
Symphony No 50 in C major, Hob.I:50 (1773)
Symphony No 51 in B flat major, Hob.I:51 (1774)
CD15 – recorded June 1994 (No 52) and June 1995 (Nos 53/54) [68.10]
Symphony No 52 in C minor, Hob.I:52 (1774)
Symphony No 53 in D major ‘L’Impériale’, Hob.I:53 (1778/9)
Symphony No 54 in G major, Hob.I:54 (1774)
CD16 – recorded May 1996 [68.21]
Symphony No 55 in E flat major ‘The Schoolmaster’, Hob.I:55 (1774)
Symphony No 56 in C major, Hob.I:56 (1774)
Symphony No 57 in D major, Hob.I:57 (1774)
CD17 – recorded May 1996 [58.54]
Symphony No 58 in F major, Hob.I:58 (1775)
Symphony No 59 in A major ‘Fire’, Hob.I:59 (1769)
Symphony No 60 in C major ‘Il distratto’, Hob.I:60 (1774)
CD18 – recorded May 1996 (Nos 61/63) and June 1997 (No 62) [60.45]
Symphony No 61 in D major, Hob.I:61 (1776)
Symphony No 62 in D major, Hob.I:62 (1781)
Symphony No 63 in C major ‘La Roxelane’, Hob.I:63 (1781)
CD19 – recorded June 1997 [57.40]
Symphony No 64 in A major ‘Tempora Mutantur’, Hob.I:64 (1778)
Symphony No 65 in C major, Hob.I:65 (1778)
Symphony No 66 in B flat major, Hob.I:66 (1779)
CD20 – recorded June 1997 [71.35]
Symphony No 67 in F major, Hob.I:67 (1779)
Symphony No 68 in B flat major, Hob.I:68 (1779)
Symphony No 69 in C major ‘Laudon’, Hob.I:69 (1779)
CD21 – recorded June 1997 (Nos 70/71) and May 1998 (No 73) [58.45]
Symphony No 70 in D major, Hob.I:70 (1779)
Symphony No 71 in B flat major, Hob.I:71 (1780)
Symphony No 72 in D major, Hob.I:72 (1781)
CD22 – recorded June 1997 (No 73) and May 1998 (Nos 74/75) [58.37]
Symphony No 73 in D major ‘La Chasse’, Hob.I:73 (1782)
Symphony No 74 in E flat major, Hob.I:74 (1781)
Symphony No 75 in B flat major, Hob.I:75 (1781)
CD23 – recorded May 1998 [58.35]
Symphony No 76 in E flat major, Hob.I:76 (1782)
Symphony No 77 in B flat major, Hob.I:77 (1782)
Symphony No 78 in C minor, Hob.I:78 (1782)
CD24 – recorded May 1998 [65.45]
Symphony No 79 in F major, Hob.I:79 (1784)
Symphony No 80 in D minor, Hob.I:80 (1784)
Symphony No 81 in G major, Hob.I:81 (1784)
CD25 – recorded September 1991 (No 83), September 1992 (No 82) and June 1994 (No 84) [74.15]
Symphony No 82 in C major ‘L'Ours’, Hob.I:82 (1786)
Symphony No 83 in G minor ‘La Poule’, Hob.I:83 (1785)
Symphony No 84 in E flat major, Hob.I:84 (1786)
CD26 – recorded September 1991 (No 85), September 1992 (No 86) and June 1994 (No 87) [73.42]
Symphony No 85 in B flat major ‘La Reine’, Hob.I:85 (1785)
Symphony No 86 in D major, Hob.I:86 (1786)
Symphony No 87 in A major, Hob.I:87 (1785)
CD27 – recorded September 1990 (Nos 88/90) and September 1991 (No 89) [69.41]
Symphony No 88 in G major, Hob.I:88 (1787)
Symphony No 89 in F major, Hob.I:89 (1787)
Symphony No 90 in C major, Hob.I:90 (1788)
CD28 – recorded September 1988 (Hob.I:105), September 1990 (No 92) and September 1991 (No 91) [74.41]
Symphony No 91 in E flat major, Hob.I:91 (1788)
Symphony No 92 in G major ‘Oxford’, Hob.I:92 (1789)
Sinfonia Concertante in B flat major, Hob.I:105 (1792)*
CD29 – recorded June 1989 (Nos 93/95) and September 1998 (No 94) [69.25]
Symphony No 93 in D major, Hob.I:93 (1791)
Symphony No 94 in G major ‘Surprise’, Hob.I.94 (1791)
Symphony No 95 in C minor, Hob.I:95 (1791)
CD30 – recorded June 1988 (No 96) and June 1989 (Nos 97/98) [79.14]
Symphony No 96 in D major, Hob.I:96 (1791)
Symphony No 97 in C major, Hob.I:97 (1792)
Symphony No 98 in B flat major, Hob.I:98 (1792)
CD31 – recorded September 1988 (No 100) and September 1989 (No 99) [52.00]
Symphony No 99 in E flat major, Hob.I:99 (1793)
Symphony No 100 in D major ‘Military’, Hob.I:100 (1793/4)
CD32 – recorded June 1987 (No 101) and June 1988 (No 102) [56.30]
Symphony No 101 in D major ‘Clock’, Hob.I:101 (1793/4)
Symphony No 102 in B flat major ‘Miracle’, Hob.I:102 (1794)
CD33 – recorded June 1987 (No 103) and September 1989 (No 104) [59.38]
Symphony No 103 in E flat major ‘Drumroll’, Hob.I:103 (1795)
Symphony No 104 in D major ‘London’, Hob.I:104 (1795)
Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra, cond. Adam Fischer, with *Rainer Küchl (violin), Wolfgang Herzer (cello), Gerhard Turetschek (oboe) and Michael Werba (bassoon)
DDD: recorded at the Haydnsaal, Esterházy Palace, Eisenstadt, Austria


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