> Haydn - The Complete Symphonies [CA]: Classical CD Reviews- Aug 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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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

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 past.

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 to shine.

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 to try.

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 flotation.

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.

Colin Anderson

See also review by Peter Lawson

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