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Franz 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]
Sinfonia Finlandia/Patrick Gallois
Irina Zahharenkova, harpsichord continuo
rec. 26-28 May 2004, Suolahti Hall, Finland
NAXOS 8.557571 [71:38]
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That Haydn lived a bit of a charmed life, secure in his position and free from many of the domestic and financial worries of his contemporaries is evident in the elegance and grace that is displayed in much of his output. Even in the so called Sturm und Drang works, the storms are more staged dramas than any reflection of real life turmoil. No strife is evident at all in these, the first five of Haydn’s more than one hundred symphonies, adroitly performed by Patrick Gallois and Sinfonia Finlandia.

Haydn may not have really been the "father of the symphony" as he is often called, but he was unquestionably the genre’s refiner and indeed brought the form to its classical apex. Composers for generations to follow would model their works on his formula and structure. These early works that date from the period before his legendary stint with the Esterhazy family are although youthful, certainly masterful in their construction. Probably written for the court of Count von Morzin, Haydn’s early employer, they pay tribute to the Mannheim Orchestra, whose signature "rocket" (an opening gesture that begins low in the register and rapidly moves upward with a big crescendo) is used in the opening movements of the first two symphonies.

There is considerably debate and controversy over the use of the harpsichord in the context of a symphony, with good evidence lying around to support both its use and omission. Gallois uses the harpsichord in these performances, and it sounds rather prominently. Some of my colleagues in other publications have fussed about this, but it did not bother me. It is perfectly reasonable to believe that Haydn conducted these works from the keyboard, and although the harpsichord in these performances does seem to get an aural pride of place, I did not find it bothersome. In fact, I found that it added zest, spirit and rhythmic drive to the playing.

Mr. Gallois has a finely honed instrument in his Finnish orchestra, and they play with charm, grace and vigor. I particularly appreciated the careful balance between sections, and the playful handing off of themes and motives between them. In particular, there is some very fine oboe playing here, sweet, warm and refreshingly in tune. This is from all sounds and appearances a modern instrument ensemble, but there is never any heavy handed playing and Mr. Gallois pays careful attention to issues of phrasing, playing with an obvious knowledge of period practices.

It is nearly impossible to go wrong with a Haydn disc, and this one does not disappoint. A refreshing look at a great composer in his youth, this is a recording that is sure to please.

Kevin Sutton

see also reviews by Gary Higginson and Christopher Howell


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