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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 37 in C major (1758) [13.09]
Symphony No. 38 in C major (1766-8) [14.39]
Symphony No. 39 in G minor (1770?) [15.38]
Symphony No. 40 in F major (1763) [15.16]
Cologne Chamber Orchestra/Helmut Müller-Brühl
rec. Sendesaal DLR, Cologne, 24-28 May 2002
NAXOS 8.557093 [58.41]

This program - Volume 28 of Naxos's unfolding Haydn symphony cycle - offers four symphonies composed for Esterháza. They're all rather short, and lack smart nicknames to distinguish them from their immediate neighbors. But they're all Haydn, so they offer a wealth of crisp rhythmic impulse and directly appealing melody, all perfectly proportioned. They're simply delightful.

Symphony 38 stands out by giving a sort of starring role to the principal oboe, which piquantly launches the Trio of the Menuet in triplet scales, and stops the action in the Finale with a brief cadenza. (Did Beethoven know this score when he composed his Fifth Symphony?) H.C. Robbins Landon hypothesizes that, as the oboe virtuoso Vittorio Colombazzo was resident at Esterháza for part of 1768, the work may have been composed with him in mind. Other particularly captivating movements, in no special order, include the operatic opening of the G minor, whose initial undercurrent of taut anxiety shifts quickly into the cheerful, bustling major; the Trio of Symphony 37, with its unusually severe minor-key unisons; and the impulse and dash of the F major's fugato Finale.

The Cologne Chamber Orchestra plays on modern instruments - I'm glad this rich territory hasn't been unilaterally ceded to the musicologists! - with a big, bright tone and firm presence, though if you listen through the slightly boomy recorded resonance, the low strings aren't always quite on top of the quick figurations. Conductor Helmut Müller-Brühl knows the style. He seems oddly uncomfortable with Symphony 38, imposing a few tricky fades on the opening movement, setting up the Finale's oboe cadenza with a sudden, clumsy ritard - the ritard is fine, the clumsiness is not. Otherwise, his middle-of-the-road pacing suits these poised scores. The quick outer movements - even when marked Presto as in Symphony 37 - are solid and firmly grounded, allowing the strings enough time for crisp articulations. The menuets are stately and dignified; the Andantes move along elegantly, without straining for inappropriate profundity. Try it, you'll like it.

Stephen Francis Vasta



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