This is a welcome
addition to the Haydn discography. Generally, if you are interested
in sampling any of the earlier symphonies, you need to invest
in a complete set. Even with the budget price tag of Adam
Fischer's set on Brilliant Classics and Antal Dorati's on Decca,
this is still a pretty expensive proposition. The fact remains,
though, that while the popular named Sturm und Drang symphonies
and the late Paris and London sets are well served
on disc, the sheer volume of the symphonic output has tended
to marginalise the earlier symphonies. The daytime triptych
of symphonies 6-8 is the exception to this rule.
Naxos has been
putting a Haydn cycle together for some years now, using a
number of its house bands and conductors. Although Naxos will
doubtless bundle the cycle up in a white box when it is complete,
company policy dictates that the individual discs will also
remain on sale for those who want to purchase specific issues
rather than emptying their pockets and filling their shelves
with more Haydn that they can handle in one go.
This CD is the
first of the series to feature Irish conductor Kevin Mallon
and the Toronto Camerata. Mallon impressed earlier this year
with a disc of Handel, and he seems equally at home in Haydn's
symphonies. The Toronto Camerata are also surprisingly good. They
are essentially a pick-up band comprising musicians from a
number of Toronto-based orchestras, including the Toronto Symphony
and the Canadian Opera Orchestra. Nonetheless, their ensemble
is impressive and they play with period performance sensitivity
on their modern instruments.
They clearly enjoy
this music, and I enjoyed listening to it. Although these
symphonies date from early in Haydn's career, he was already
a mature musician. All four of these symphonies were written
within a couple of years of his joining the Esterhazy court
as Vice-Kapellmeister and show him experimenting with symphonic
form, which was then still in its infancy. Two of the symphonies
are in the expected four movements. The other two are in three
movements, with an expanded slow movement taking the place
of the usual menuet.
The 14th symphony
has an attractive opening theme, with an unexpected rest introducing
a hesitation into the flow of the music - a typical Haydn touch. The
writing for horns in the third movement menuet is lovely and,
after a gentle start, the finale revs up with horns to the
fore once more in an exciting finish.
The 15th symphony
is, like its predecessor, in four movements, though this time
Haydn inverts the internal andante and menuet movements. The
introduction to the first movement is a light adagio, with
high violins, with interjections from the horns, unsupported
by the rest of the orchestra until the presto kicks in at about
1:50. The menuet movement features some lovely solo cello
and viola writing.
The 16th symphony,
like the 14th, opens with an allegro of contrapuntal tendencies. The
central andante is pretty, but it is the third and final movement
that is the highlight of this piece: a light, nimble presto
in 6/8 time.
To close proceedings,
the 17th symphony contributes a lively first movement allegro,
a soulful central slow movement, and a high-spirited finale
that is over in a flash.
liner notes, as always, are informative and well written.
For all of its
delights, I do have some reservations. The disc is let down
by an over-reverberant acoustic which at times makes the music
sound like it is being played in a concert hall with tiled
walls. You really notice this when the horns kick in. The
quick violin figures in the swift outer movements are not always
perfectly in time, though I admit to being pedantic here. The
other irritant is the use of a harpsichord continuo. To be
fair, it does not bother me for most of the disc and its use
is justifiable on historical grounds, but it is very distracting
in the quieter passages in general and in the andante of the
14th symphony in particular.
On the whole, though,
this disc deserves a high recommendation. Anyone looking to
sample early Haydn should look no further.
see also reviews by Christopher
Howell and Jonathan Woolf