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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 1 in D major (ca.1758-9) [13:46]
Symphony No. 2 in C major (ca.1761) [9:35]
Symphony No. 3 in G major (ca.1759-60) [16:43]
Symphony No. 4 in D major (ca.1759-60) [13:46]
Symphony No. 5 in A major (ca.1760) [17:47]
Sinfonia Finlandia/Patrick Gallois
Irina Zahharenkova (harpsichord continuo)
Rec. Suolahti Hall, Finland, 26-28 May 2004
NAXOS 8.557571 [71:38]

Volume 29 of Naxos’s series of Haydn symphonies. Those who have made it this far will have decided for themselves whether the completist’s goal is worth achieving. The Naxos set has had its ups and downs: a project of this scale involving different orchestras and conductors will inevitably have its own strengths and weaknesses. With affordable price and availability as individual purchases on their side they will be a respectable choice for anyone – especially those who like a collection which expands organically, rather than with those big and tempting Brilliant bricks. I have a colleague at work who occasionally puts on some Haydn from this series, and I can never say I’ve found my ear offended by anything nasty, unless her computer crashes or an orchestral student phones in to say they’ve booked a holiday during project week.
The earliest of Haydn’s symphonies date from 1759 or just before, and would have occurred during his first official appointment, as Kapellmeister to a Bohemian nobleman, Count von Morzin. Morzin kept his own band at his castle in Lukavec, and with evidence from some surviving manuscript parts it can be shown that there were two desks of first and second violins, along with the usual pairs of oboes and horns, bass and continuo.
Although Haydn is described as the ‘father of the symphony’, the classical three movement form to be found in symphonies 1, 2, and 4 had already been well established in the Italianate concertos of Torelli and Vivaldi. Symphonies 3 and 5 have four movements, a pattern known in examples from the first half of the eighteenth century. There is nothing exploratory or experimental sounding about these works, which brim over with bouncy energy and enthusiasm. Haydn seems to be relishing having his own orchestra to play with, and judging by the technical virtuosity in the upper string parts, they must have been a skilled and professional bunch of musicians.
If you have an idle moment at the listening booth, try track 8 (Symphony No.3, Andante moderato) for some typical Haydn wit and a few scrunchily dissonant resolutions. Track 12 (Symphony No.4, Andante) has a remarkable, secretively creeping opening accompaniment in the lower strings, and track 17 (Symphony No.5, Finale: Presto) has some nice skyrocket effects. Particularly noticeable in the slow movements is the wonderful harpsichord playing of Irina Zahharenkova, which is if anything a little too wonderful. Going back to the Andante second movement of Symphony No.1, the simple, almost naïve textures of the string-only orchestral writing are over-filled with elaborate filigrees of harpsichord improvisation. The harpsichord is recorded too close for comfort on this disc, turning what should be a continuo which melts into the orchestral textures into a peskily promiscuous soloist, constantly flexing her plucking quills inside your left speaker. In the Andante of Symphony No.2 (track 5) she seems to have found a more appropriate stop setting, and the balance is much better: why this couldn’t have been done in other movements is a mystery. There are louder orchestral moments when Irina is thankfully drowned, but even they are richly strewn with a clattering glare which has your ears wishing that aural Polaroid filters had been invented. Don’t get me wrong, her playing is rhythmic, inventive and skilful, it’s just that she needs turning down, and occasionally off.
Gallois’s Sinfonia Finlandia are excellent in this repertoire, and the whole set of performances exude the fresh and youthful vigour of these works with tight tempi, and accurate and dynamic playing. On the whole then, a recommendation, especially if you like your harpsichord ‘cooking with gas.’
Dominy Clements

see also reviews by Gary Higginson, Christopher Howell and Kevin Sutton


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