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
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.