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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphonies - Volume 30

Symphony No.14 in A major (c.1761-63) [15.58]
Symphony No.15 in D major (c.1760) [19.12]
Symphony No.16 in B flat major (c.1760-63) [14.36]
Symphony No.17 in F major (c.1760-62) [18.56]
Toronto Camerata/Kevin Mallon
rec. Grace Church on the Hill, Toronto, July 2004
NAXOS 8.557656 [68.42]

We’ve now reached volume thirty in Naxos’s budget price Haydn symphonic series. Collectors will know that other bands have made substantial contributions and these include the Cologne Chamber Orchestra under Helmut Müller-Brühl, the Swedish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Béla Drahos and Sinfonia Finlandia directed by Patrick Gallois.
Toronto Camerata, which Kevin Mallon has directed on disc before, of course, is a modern instrument group but one that is versed in historically informed practice. I always find that a pompous mouthful to say, let alone write, but it has the virtue of being true.
Even at this price bracket, and even in the earlier symphonies, there are competitors. If you want a budget price box doubtless you will have considered Adam Fischer’s set of the complete symphonies with the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra, ex-Nimbus and now in a Brilliant box set. You’ll need to buy the box as the volumes are not, unlike Naxos’s, availably singly but the Brilliant price is exceptionally tempting. But that would be to overlook differences in interpretation and approach to these early symphonies and differences there certainly are.

The Toronto/Mallon performances of all four are distinguished by an airy clarity of textures and lightness of articulation. Bowing is never heavy or tensile; textures are never quasi-Romantic. The results are consistently enjoyable. 
The string sections are lissom and light on their feet, horns discreet but characterful. In the opening Allegro of the A major Fischer is more rococo than Mallon with a greater quotient of the old espressivo, and a greater masculinity and vigour. The subtly argued rhythm that underpins the andante brings with it a lighter wit in Mallon’s hands however, against which Fischer can sound a touch heavy – these are respective qualities that recur throughout their performances. The smaller string body of Mallon’s band means that the finale is full of textual clarity and Fischer’s full of manly heft.
In the D major Fischer sounds rather more Beechamesque with a lyricism that is almost French, almost, in fact, taking Haydn close to Grétry (specifically Zémire et Azor). Free flowing and fleeter, Mallon is deft if not quite so obviously warm, though once more his Minuet scores by virtue of the ease and lightness of his rhythmic control. Fischer chugs but Mallon flies in the opening of No.16. If I find Fischer somewhat more characterful in this three-movement work it’s the case that Mallon remains true to deftness and light articulation.  The aria-like beauty of the slow movement of the F major is perhaps more gravely expressed by Fischer though Mallon’s warmth is always evident.
In the end these are two differing philosophies, one attuned more to the historically informed, the other to the greater romantic weight of the modern chamber or symphony orchestra. Choice will depend as much on one’s affiliations in this respect as to anything else. Certainly there are few complaints with the recording. I’ve in the past found this location leads to a certain recession of sound and a lack of heft in the tuttis but things seem to be much better here.

Jonathan Woolf


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