These are very early works, but Haydn rarely fails to surprise
and delight. At this stage the composer had only a very small
orchestra available, but he does some remarkable things
with it. The high horn writing will immediately strike
you at the beginning of no.14, while the solo viola and
cello in the trio of the Minuet of no.15 create a remarkably
rich, almost Brahmsian, sound. The Andante of no.16 is
for strings only and I don’t remember ever hearing a texture
quite like it. I’m glad the booklet explains the trick,
for I’d never have worked out what was going on without
a score. The theme is played by the violins and doubled
by a cello an octave below, while the accompanying material
is shared by the violas, the other cello and the bass continuo,
again an octave apart.
Formally, Haydn was tirelessly inventive and the remarkable
movement here is the first of no.15. It starts with a delicate
A typical slow introduction, you will think, but it goes
on a bit long for that. One of those early symphonies that
starts with a slow movement? No, for it then dashes off
into a symphonic allegro. And then the real surprise is
that the Adagio returns again afterwards. I don’t think
I know any symphony of even a much later date which starts
like this, and I wonder if there is any precedent that
Haydn could have known?
Though less obviously remarkable, the first movements of
no.16 and 17 are notable for their energetic purposefulness,
well rendered in these performances. A slightly less happy
surprise is the discovery that Haydn could, at this stage,
write an Andante – that of no.15 – which is long, featureless
and unvaried. Or has the performers’ insistence on elegance
at all costs in the slow movements failed to get the most
out of this one?
As readers will probably know, Naxos are working through
the Haydn symphonies, but are farming the individual discs
different ensembles and conductors. I’ve so far had the
opportunity to review Vol.29, where the first five symphonies
were played by the Sinfonia Finlandia conducted by Patrick
Gallois. In many ways their approaches are very similar,
for both are small modern-instruments ensembles “versed
in the performance style of the eighteenth century”, as
the booklet specifically states with regard to the Toronto
Camerata. So we get zippy, brilliantly articulated allegros,
lilting minuets, dancing finales and elegant slow movements.
As you will have gathered, if I have reservations it is
over this last aspect but, whether or not it is the 18th century
way, it certainly seems the modern way.
There is one notable difference between Gallois’s and Mallon’s approaches.
Gallois has his harpsichord continuo player billed prominently
and she takes on a very active role, even adding cadenzas
here and there. Mallon has a harpsichord continuo but with
a very discreet role and sometimes silent altogether. For
a recording that is to be listened to repeatedly, I think
I prefer Mallon’s decision. Incidentally, the uncompleted
Hogwood cycle used no harpsichord, even in the earliest
works. But shouldn’t the continuo instrument really be
Another decision made by Mallon is to include every possible
repeat, including those of the reprises of the minuets,
that might be considered unnecessary and possibly unwelcome.
Though I must say they don’t seem excessively long in these
lilting performances. In this he is following Hogwood,
whose only historical evidence was “well, it doesn’t actually
say you don’t have to repeat them” (I’m quoting from memory
an interview I read a good while ago).
Though I should be interested to hear what Gobermann, Maerzendorfer
and Dorati made of the slow movements in particular, these
are clearly excellent performances in the modern period-aware
mould and, unless you actually have one of the few earlier
alternatives – 15, 16 and 17 were also recorded by Boettcher
on Turnabout – you should not hesitate.
see also review by Jonathan Woolf