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
see also reviews by
Higginson and Christopher