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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphonies, Vol. 25
Symphony No. 70 in D major
Symphony No. 71 in B flat major
Symphony No. 73 in D major 'La Chasse'
Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia
Bela Drahos
Rec 24-27 July 2000, Phoenix Studio, Budapest
NAXOS 8.555708 [69.29]

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The Naxos Haydn Symphonies project continues apace with this interesting issue of three 'middle period' pieces, dating from around 1780.

Haydn's famous observation that by being employed at the Esterhazy establishment he was 'cut off, and therefore forced to become original', is justified again and again by greater contact with his music. For each of his symphonies at once has the hallmark of his style and its own individual characteristics and personality.

Symphony No. 70 was one of the first works Haydn composed after the disastrous Esterhaza fire of 1779, which among other things destroyed the Prince's new theatre. The music is notable for the skilful integration of the orchestral parts, including perhaps the most sophisticated writing for trumpets that the composer had achieved thus far. The first movement is brief and fiery, with jagged angular themes, but Drahos is only moderately successful in generating intensity, both the phrasing and the orchestral balances could have a more cutting edge than this. Perhaps this is one of those occasions when the listener cannot be sure whether it is the recording or the performance which misses fire.

The slow movement is another matter, however, since the playing has real gracefulness and style. So too the insistent repetitions of the note D which generate practically everything in the finale; this is a highly idiomatic account.

Symphony No. 71 uses a smaller orchestra, without trumpets and drums, but it does not lack imagination. There is a particularly good slow introduction, attempting the same rhythm in different presentations, before the lively Allegro con brio sets in. The Adagio is an extended movement, a theme and variations, and this generally restrained movement requires rather more point and colour in the recorded sound than is found here. The performance has a certain opaque quality. The minuet which follows makes a more direct impression, and all praise to the string players for their dexterity in the whirlwind finale.

Among this collection of symphonies No. 73, 'La Chasse', is the jewel in the crown. It is undeniable that the acquisition of a nickname aids the popularity of a Haydn symphony, but in the case the quality of imagination and invention have surely played their part too. There is a problem of authenticity with this piece, since the overture to Haydn's opera La fedelta premiata was added to the existing three movements by way of finale, and employed trumpets, whereas these movements did not. Some modern editions recommend adding trumpets throughout, but this performance does not. The effect, taking the symphony as a whole, makes for an unusual and distinctive listening experience, and all praise to Naxos for mentioning the details of this in the accompanying booklet note. In the bargain market they set the standard in this regard.

Drahos directs an engaging and energetic performance, and finale sounds truly climactic, with genuine hunting fanfares which allow the horns to provide the springboard to music of real vigour.
Terry Barfoot

 


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