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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphonies: No.1 in D [13:46], No.2 in C [09:35], No.3 in G [16:43], No.4 in D [13:46], No.5 in A [17:47]
Sinfonia Finlandia/Pattrick Gallois
rec. 26-28 May 2004, Suolahti Hall, Finland
NAXOS 8.557571 [71:38]

The first five Haydn symphonies sounds like the start of a cycle but this is actually Volume 29 in Naxosís series which wanders back and forth numerically as well as from location to location. Volume 28 had nos.37-40 from the Cologne Chamber Orchestra under Helmut Müller-Bruhl, volume 27 nos. 50-52 from the Swedish Chamber Orchestra under Bela Drahos. At least this way they should get to the end sooner or later: Haydn cycles have had a chequered history on disc. The first attempt, under Max Goberman (CBS), was brought short by the conductorís early death, while the first actually to be completed, under Ernst Märzendorfer, had such limited distribution that most people have never even heard of it. Even quite knowledgeable record collectors will usually tell you that the first complete cycle was that conducted by Dorati for Decca. Amusingly, while all through the early 1970s the pages of "Gramophone" and similar magazines were full of advertisements and fulsome reviews of the ongoing Dorati series, three miserable little lines in November 1972 on a full-page ad by the Musical Heritage Society (distributed in the UK by Oryx) announced the "Complete Haydn Symphonies (107)" on 49 LPs, by the Vienna Chamber Orchestra under Ernst Märzendorfer - and, while they were about it, also the "Complete Keyboard Works" played by Artur Balsam on 15 LPs. No review appeared in "Gramophone" but if memory serves me right, Anthony Hodgson dedicated considerable space to this cycle in "Records and Recording". Shortly after, Oryx faded from view as discreetly as it had arrived, taking a number of fascinating things with it; as well as much dross by presumably pseudonymous artists.

Following Dorati, unless I am much mistaken, projects have been started and abandoned under Hogwood and Ivan Fischer, the former a victim of public indifference, the latter of the collapse of Nimbus. Mathematics suggests to me (49 LPs equal not much more than 30 CDs) that the Naxos hybrid cycle must be at an advanced stage.

The Hogwood would have been the first original instruments cycle. It also made the controversial decision not to make use of a harpsichord continuo, even in the earlier, sometimes sparsely scored works. Since you may have strong feelings on some of these matters, let me say that the Sinfonia Finlandia play modern instruments with some leanings towards what we now call "authentic" style, though without undue dogmatism; staccatos are crisp but not aggressive, dynamics are carefully graded but phrasing is never over-preened. Extremes of tempi are avoided: prestos are buoyant rather than break-neck, andantes are never mistaken for adagios, minuets dance without haste but also without sagging (as Doratiís often did). In short, itís all very musical and very alive.

A particular feature is the harpsichordist, Irina Zahharenkova who, at the opposite extreme to Hogwoodís non-existent one, has a very busy time of it with scales and arpeggios galore, improvising lead-backs to repeated sections and even the odd little cadenza. It sounds charming, but for repeated listening I hope the non-specialist listener will realize he is hearing a lot of notes that Haydn never wrote. I tend to agree that the earlier symphonies sound a bit bleak without a continuo, but maybe for a record it might have been better to keep it to a minimum? Still, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Another feature is that, although this is a chamber orchestra, it seems to have been recorded in a smallish room that makes it actually sound very full and large (since Haydnís patrons didnít have the equivalent of the RFH in their stately homes, I am sure this is right) and my overall impression is of being carried along on a full tide of majestic sound, the oboes and horns triumphantly in the picture. In place of graceful, charming "Papa Haydn" of legend, he is revealed to have been a "big" composer right from the start. And make no mistake about it; if he had left just these five works, we would still rate him higher than almost all his contemporaries except Mozart - whose first five symphonies would not make such a fine showing; we would wonder at the fugal finale of the 3rd, with its startling anticipation of the "Jupiter", at the inventive textures of the Andante of no.4 - and with so few instruments to extract this fascinating sound from - at the harmonic alarums and excursions of the terse first movement of no.2 and we would enjoy practically everything else. So if you only have late Haydn symphonies in your collection and have the snobbish idea that anything below about no.50 is not worth your consideration, spend a few pounds on this and youíll get quite a surprise.

Christopher Howell

 

 



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