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Josef HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 1 in D major [13.46]; Symphony No. 2 in C major [9.35]; Symphony No. 3 in G major [16.43] Symphony No. 4 in D major [13.46]; Symphony No. 5 in A major [17.47] (1759-1761)
Sinfonia Finlandia/Patrick Gallois
Irina Zahharenkova (harpsichord continuo)
Rec. Suolahti Hall, Finland. 26-28 May 2004. DDD
NAXOS 8.557571 [71.38]
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Naxos are recording the complete Haydn symphonies with different ensembles and conductors a factor which marks a significant difference from previous attempts by single conductors like Antal Dorati in the 1970s, or more recently by Adam Fischer (Nimbus, Brilliant), Trevor Pinnock (Archiv) or Roy Goodman (Hyperion).

Of course not all chamber orchestras play on original instruments but most, nowadays are ‘stylistically aware’ and that’s clearly the case here.

I have to admit that it seems a little bizarre that now we have reached volume 29 we are hearing the symphonies numbered in the Hoboken catalogue 1-5. My advice is do not look too seriously into the numberings of the early symphonies especially, as Haydn’s numbering and indeed those suggested by H.C. Robbins Landon are sometimes different. Nevertheless the ‘Le Matin’, ‘Le Midi’ and ‘Le Soir’, all in four movements, do follow as 6, 7 and 8. However those, more famous, named symphonies are the first works written for the Esterhazy household whereas the symphonies under review here were almost certainly composed when Haydn was in the service of Count Morzin in the late 1750s. Morzin’s orchestra must have been pretty good by the way. Listen especially to the last movement of No. 5 to hear how good the strings must have been. I should add that throughout the set I was struck by the fine wind writing and playing. Morzin had a particularly good wind band at his disposal as the scoring demonstrates.

The symphonies are for pairs of oboes and horns, strings with bassoon doubling the continuo bass line. A harpsichord - rather high profile here - is used as is fairly standard practice but which is not to everyone’s liking. No one can be quite sure whether Haydn led from the harpsichord or from the violin. Gallois has the instrument fairly closely miked but, curiously omits it from the slow movement of No. 2. For the opening Adagio of No. 5 it is very dominant. In passing it’s interesting to note that when Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Concentus Musicus (Das Alte Werk) in the early 1990s tackled the early symphonies they did not consider the harpsichord to be necessary at all.

I thought that it would be interested to hear again Roy Goodman’s versions recorded in 1991 alongside this new recording and some interesting contrasts are revealed.

Goodman also has a very audible harpsichord but uses period instruments. In his ‘A Note on the performance’ Goodman said ‘All repeats are observed as a matter of course, unless there is an obvious dramatic reason for not doing so". Although he does not say so, Gallois - who is not a specialist Haydn or indeed Early Music conductor although he has fine credentials - adopts the same view.

The Andante of the 4th Symphony is a remarkable piece. Its syncopations in the lower strings are such as make the listener almost unable to detect the first beat of the bar. Gallois makes the violins float effortlessly over this backdrop, and quite beautiful it is too. For Goodman this vague dreaminess will not do. The harpsichord is more to the front, the tempo slower and each beat clearer. The magic is somehow dissipated.

On the whole however Goodman’s presentation of the symphonies is marked by outstanding playing especially from the violins. There is a more lithe approach with cleaner attack and brisker tempi. The wind also has a more forward placement.

The booklet notes by Keith Anderson are adequate. They repeat the composer’s biography from other volumes - which after all is fair enough - and describe the music succinctly.

To sum up. These performances by the Sinfonia Finlandia are perfectly acceptable and have many good points and fine moments. They would not be my first choice but these attractive symphonies are well served here.

Gary Higginson

see also review by Christopher Howell



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