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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732 - 1809)
Symphony No. 92 in G The Oxford Hob: I:92 (1789) [23.50]
Symphony No. 94 in G The Surprise Hob. I:94 (1791) [22.17]
La fedelta premiata Hob. XXVIII:10 (1780) [4.44]
Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra/Adam Fischer.
Rec. live in the Stefaniensaal, Graz, September 21st and 22nd, 2004. DDD
MDG 901 1325-6 [51’12"]

Here is a wonderful treat for all lovers of Haydn Symphonies. This coupling of the Oxford and Surprise Symphonies plus a short overture, recorded live by a pre-eminent specialist Haydn orchestra is absolutely superb.

As most collectors will be aware, Adam Fischer, brother of Ivan Fischer (of Budapest Festival Orchestra fame) has already recorded all of Haydn’s Symphonies for Nimbus. These have been re-cycled a few times by different companies since Nimbus went into initial receivership. As far as I know, these have not been available separately for a long time. A few were intermittently available as Nimbus single releases. This issue then represents an excellent opportunity to hear the very high standards of Haydn playing in stunning sound quality.

The Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra was founded by Adam Fischer in 1986/87 season primarily to perform Haydn at the Eisenstadt Haydn Festival, another creation of the conductor. Players from the Vienna Philharmonic, Budapest Symphony and the Budapest Festival orchestra were asked to join the orchestra for the festival period. This was held in the concert hall on the Eisenstadt Estate, the hall where many of Haydn’s works received their first performances.

One of the complaints about the Nimbus releases was the generally reverberant sound, a feature common to many of that company’s discs. For this MDG disc there is a change of venue to Graz and a live recording rather than a studio release.

The effect of the live performance is revelatory and MDG’s recording captures the tingling excitement of the playing superbly well. The Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra has always played Haydn on modern, rather than period instruments, but have assimilated some period performance characteristics, such as lively tempos, hard timpani sticks and the like.

MDG have recorded this absolutely first rate orchestra in superb sound quality. I cannot imagine anyone buying this disc being dissatisfied with it. The hall acoustic has been captured well and there is just enough reverberation to give an exciting edge to the playing, but not enough to drown the orchestra in echo.

The Overture, a relative rarity, is fun, but I would have preferred another Symphony instead of this short work. There is still enough space on the disc, including the overture, for another Symphony. I suppose the only real criticism I can level at this release, is that MDG could have had a well filled disc which would have been even more attractive than it already is. Perhaps there were no further symphonies on the programme at Graz when these were recorded.

In the intervening years since the Nimbus and Brilliant sets the playing of the orchestra has matured and we are now experiencing real performances played superbly well.

As you may probably be aware from this review, this disc has given me immense enjoyment. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Finally, the excellent MDG notes spend time explaining the concept of their new recording process, known as ‘2+2+2 multi-channel sound’. Its aim, they say, is to produce "sweet spots" all over the listening area. This system requires yet another arrangement of speakers within the listening area over traditional multi-channel sound. I am bemused as to why the various record companies believe that their new systems are going to be the least bit interesting to all but the anorak brigade. It was activity like this that killed quadrophony and the industry does not seem to learn. Enough to say that the recording quality is superb, and prospective buyers need not hesitate whether they have the one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, or eight speakers each technology seems to require us to have.

John Phillips


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