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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Paris’ Symphonies
Symphony No. 82 in C major, L’Ours (1786) [26:13]
Symphony No. 83 in G minor, La Poule (1785) [23:05]
Symphony No. 84 in E flat major (1786) [25:27]
Symphony No. 85 in B flat major, La Reine (1785-6) [24:09]
Symphony No. 86 in D major (1786) [28:52]
Symphony No. 87 in A major (1785) [23:00]
English Chamber Orchestra/Daniel Barenboim
rec. Kingsway Hall and No. 1 Studio Abbey Road, London, 29 December 1973, 23-24 May, 28-30 June 1974. ADD
EMI CLASSICS GEMINI 3 71477 2 [75:02 + 76:17]


 

The six symphonies Haydn composed for the Loge Olympique in Paris aren’t as well known as the two sets of six he later wrote for London but they’re very varied, inventive and well represented on CD. The original Paris Orchestra was a big band but, in the vanguard of the fashion of recent years, Barenboim’s set uses a chamber orchestra, as do the performances with which I shall be comparing it. Even the two most fully scored symphonies, 82 and 86, are known also to have been played by Haydn’s chamber orchestra at Eszterhaza and size is less of an issue provided the recording is sufficiently immediate.

This set gets off to a lively start with Symphony 82. Straight into a Vivace assai, which Barenboim does make it, with sforzandi at tr. 1 1:05 as lightly glancing blows. The second theme at 1:29 is by contrast melodious and graceful, with a bassoon drone which is like a foretaste of The Bear of the work’s nickname which enters in the finale. But there’s no let-up of pace and soon plenty of further opportunity for wildly rushing strings. A winsome passage from 7:03 for strings alone just before the final onslaught is rather smudged over but trumpets and timpani come nicely to the fore at the end. As throughout in the outer movements of these symphonies, Barenboim observes the exposition repeat but not the second half repeat. To do so would bring a better balance, as achieved by the 2001-2 Vienna Concentus Musicus/Nikolaus Harnoncourt recording on DHM, but as well as being full price Harnoncourt takes three CDs.

Barenboim’s slow movement is rightly not very slow, a fair Allegretto with a jocular swagger about it and a finely balanced sound by conductor and engineers. The dynamic contrasts are suavely underplayed. The variations where the key changes from F major to F minor (tr. 2 1:44, 4:18) are appropriately sterner and tighter. Thereafter things move with such ease and charm you might find yourself lolling until the neat observation of quirky appoggiaturas from 6:37 in violins, flutes and oboes give it some spice, a signal for everything to become more alert and chirpy to round off. The singing style is well realized.

The performance does show its age at the beginning of the Minuet which would not be introduced so massively today, but the oboe solo at the end of its first strain is thereby all the cheekier and the repetitions are lighter. The Trio has a sunny ease before it becomes more courtly yet never loses its graceful quality. The creamy individuality of the wind playing is gorgeous without ever becoming indulgent.

The finale lacks nothing in vibrancy. I’m convinced those high violins’ appoggiaturas screeching for attention (tr. 4 0:30) were adapted by Bernard Herrmann only slightly more discordantly for the stabbing in the shower in Psycho. Barenboim gives us a merrily cavorting dancing bear and the proceedings have an exciting, headlong quality. A pity about the tame timpani at 5:20. They’re marked fortissimo and should make you sit up.

The recording has a warm bass, glowing treble and is pleasantly balanced. By today’s standards it’s a touch opaque and abrasive in the closely recorded strings in the louder passages but the vertical texture is good.

Even at superbudget price Barenboim has competition. I compared the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra/Adam Fischer (Regis RRC 2044), recorded in 1992 in the airier acoustic of the Haydnsaal at the Eszterhazy Palace. Fischer begins with a more emphatic bounce and momentum, but his quieter moments have elegance. With sheenier strings he brings a fresher but also frostier feel to the music, with more rhythmic insistency in the first movement. Barenboim’s characterization throughout is lighter and his contours smoother. He’s still alert but less tense. He doesn’t showcase the second theme as much in its own right.

Here are the comparative timings:

Timings I  II

III

IV

tt

Barenboim 7:37 8:15  4:40 5:39 26:13
Fischer 7:49 7:38 4:18 5:38 25:23

It’s Barenboim’s more generous slow movement that marks the difference. Here Fischer is neater, more sharply pointed with definite but refined shaping and careful attention to the lower strings’ contributions. His first variation in the minor is starker, with stronger dynamic contrasts, his climax more rhetorical in its celebration. Barenboim has more charm with a softer, more relaxed focus and smoother contours. He’s also more emotive, more old-fashioned yet endearingly so, the first minor variation having a touch of pathos.

Fischer’s Minuet is still broad but tempered by swinging pointing. In the Trio he uses solo strings which brings a homelier, more chamber music feel. Barenboim’s Trio uses full strings but his smoother phrasing exudes more charm. Fischer’s finale is all jollity, celebration, excitement and momentum. Barenboim’s opening is lighter and he’s brightly stylish throughout, simply but effectively conveying joy in the music-making, not quite as tense as Fischer yet with a more concentrated development.

Symphony 83 begins in Barenboim’s hands as a forthright storm in G minor. But the dotted-quaver/semiquaver rhythm, established as an element of the tension as early as the second bar, is subverted by Haydn as the accompaniment (tr. 1 1:21) to the skittish appoggiaturas through which the second theme, the clucking Hen of its nickname, is presented in B flat major. Barenboim makes the transformation smooth but the development rigorous; progression is all.

In a slow Andante Barenboim goes for warmth, compassion and affecting expression. His Minuet is also very relaxed for Allegretto yet pleasingly suave, its Trio courteously pointed if a little somnolent. The finale by contrast gets up a fair head of steam.

For this symphony I compared Barenboim’s other superbudget rival, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Sigiswald Kuijken (Virgin Classics 5 61659 2) recorded in 1989. The notable differences here from an orchestra of period instruments are a string sound of more steel as well as sheen and a more pearly flute topping.

Here are the comparative timings:

Timings I  II

III

IV

tt

Barenboim

6:57

7:37 

4:29

3:59

23:05

Kuijken

7:33

8:34
[6:07]
3:26 6:08 [3:59] 25:41
[21:05]

Kuijken displays the first movement in more measured paragraphs, to more trim effect but with less angst. As a result the transformation to the second theme is less marked and Kuijken’s hen goes about her business more nonchalantly. Barenboim shows enjoyment in observing her and a more kinetic quality to the entire proceedings. Kuijken’s development is one of inexorable logic; Barenboim gets more emotively involved.

Kuijken’s slow movement has the effortless grace of a sunnier, more flowing and singing line than Barenboim’s. His slower overall time is because he makes the exposition repeat which Barenboim for this movement omits. Kuijken’s comparative time without the repeat is given in brackets above. Irrespective of the repeat Kuijken convinces me this is how this movement should be played as all its changing moods, with bold contrasts of dynamic, fit in his de luxe seamless presentation.

Barenboim is beautiful at the start but too romantic, something of a study in slow motion in terms of line so you’re more aware of the structure and harmonies. He doesn’t square the contrasts so well, which may explain why he underplays them. All the same, Barenboim is more enchanting in the rising scales from tr. 6 4:30 alternating between first violins and flutes at the end of the development, bringing moments of both tenderness and hope.

Kuijken’s Minuet is pacy yet stylish, with dynamic contrasts a key element. With Barenboim’s relaxation comes that slow motion feeling again, but also emphasis on curvaceousness. His Trio is welcomingly homely and of kindly demeanour.

Kuijken’s finale is light, eager and irrepressible, yet with a piquant development. His providing the second half repeat comes as a surprise. Barenboim isn’t as sophisticated, rather more innocently skipping, but throws himself into it for all he’s worth. The result’s refreshing.

Symphony 84 begins with a slow introduction which is expressive as well as stately, though Barenboim’s loud contrasts are rather heavily applied. However, in the Allegro he shows a dainty progress from flute and strings with jolly full orchestra refrains and thereafter catches the movement’s mercurial character well. The slow movement is warm and affectionate but Barenboim seems at first uncomfortable with the theme’s sforzandi, rather thickly applied. He’s much happier when he gets to the gossamer smooth relaxation of the second variation where the sforzandi have a more successful lighter touch when the theme appears in the cellos and basses. The more forthright following variation and peaceful close are also effective.

The heart of the Minuet and Trio, the quizzically whimsical first violins’ descents near the end of both, with the other strings added in the Trio, are well spotlit albeit the Minuet is a steadyish, business-like Allegretto. Similarly the liveliness of the finale is of a troubled, resolute variety, with more of a thinking stance than the usual Haydn exuberance. The close is an affirmative “we will rejoice” but Barenboim makes you wonder, in spite of what?

Here are the comparative timings:

Timings I  II III IV tt
Barenboim 8:19 7:09  3:38 6:13 25:27
Fischer 7:30 6:34 3:11 5:47 23:02

Fischer judges the weight of the first movement introduction better. By being slightly broader (1:36 against Barenboim’s 1:28) he provides more breathing space so the loud interjections don’t sound perfunctory but part of the overall contrast of mood which is to pervade the movement. His Allegro, however, as can be seen from the overall timing of the movement, has more vivacity, especially when the running quavers kick in, the emphasis on thrust. Here Barenboim goes rather for sweetness while his more prominent wind contributions, especially the horns, make for a contrasting robustness. His dappled dynamic shading is also more sensitive and a joy, e.g. the sudden silky softness of the strings in the development at tr. 9 5:34 at the beginning of an extended passage of musing.

Fischer’s lightly glancing sforzandi are more effective in the presentation of the theme of the slow movement but I prefer Barenboim’s sufficiently stark but less vigorously dramatic approach to the first variation (tr. 10 1:30) where the key has changed from B flat major to minor. I also like the expressive way he points a mock swoon by the strings in the second section. His second variation (2:53) has a spring-like reviving quality about it and his third (4:15) goes with a summery swing and you can see the progression. Fischer is straightforwardly sweet yet alert in the second and bracing in the third variation. In the coda (5:37) it’s Barenboim who has more breadth and poise this time and a lovely hushed strings close.

Fischer’s Minuet has more bite and sturdiness whereas Barenboim’s laid-back approach offers more wistful descending violins towards the close where Fischer relies on style and sheen. Fischer’s Trio has a solo violin to match the doubling bassoon; Barenboim uses full strings but with relaxed, smooth patina. Fischer provides a spirited finale with dashing light strings’ semiquaver runs and the development crisply dispatched. Barenboim is quieter, going for style rather than excitement and, as in the first movement, revealing the wind contributions to better effect. He also points up more vividly the mysterious soft strings’ passages, the first at tr. 12 0:53, where a shadow briefly passes over the proceedings. In the same light his development bring the angst to the fore.

Symphony 85 is nicknamed The Queen because it was Marie-Antoinette’s favourite. So what might she especially have liked? I’d suggest the beguiling, rather coy, first theme of the first movement after its majestic, commanding introduction but before its swashbuckling continuation. Or maybe she liked the crafted simplicity of much of the rest of the symphony, the way the slow movement starts and ends in homely fashion, or the lovely interlude in the Trio where two solo oboes, flute and bassoon echo one another in turn, or the jolly and sunny finale. She’d have found Barenboim a sure guide in all these matters but the sound she would have heard would be like Kuijken’s period instruments.

Here are the comparative timings:

Timings

I

 II

III

IV

tt

Barenboim

7:59

7:18 

4:44

3:34

24:09

Kuijken

11:50
[8:19]

8:26

3:53

3:38

27:47
[24:16]

Kuijken’s first movement introduction, bright and incisive, with a timing of 0:45, is far less dramatically imposing than Barenboim’s 0:59. Kuijken’s first theme is suave and later sinuously delivered by the solo oboe. Yet Barenboim is feminine and sleek, with more strongly contrasted adjacent material and a more tense, potentially tragic second theme (cd 2 tr. 1 2:00) until dispelled by the charming return of the first theme on the oboe. In the quieter passages of the development Kuijken soothes in a kind of reverie. Barenboim continues to seek a resolution and thereby conjures a balmy sense of relief at the first theme’s subtle but safe return (6:43). Kuijken’s extended timing is the result of a second half repeat. For comparison I have put in brackets above his timing without that repeat.

Barenboim’s slow movement is pacier, a true Allegretto where Kuijken adopts more of an Andante. This makes the presentation of the theme more benign and lilting but Barenboim’s progression through the variations is more cogent. He finds more surprise in the sudden loud passage for the second half of the first variation (tr. 2 1:32). His second variation in the minor (2:47) is more lugubrious: you may prefer the merely wistful Kuijken. But Barenboim’s spotlit flute in the third variation (4:27), while still soft and smooth, has more impact than the comparatively cowed Kuijken. Similarly Barenboim’s bassoon, doubling the first violins is warmer in the final variation (5:53).

Kuijken is also on the slow side for the Allegretto Minuet but quickens slightly for a merrier Trio and a Minuet return with more kick. Barenboim’s Minuet is stodgier still, which makes the sforzandi rather gawky and the violins’ semiquavers less playful than Kuijken’s. But Barenboim’s Trio is agreeably rustic, aided by the pizzicato string bass. Those gorgeous woodwind echoes can then linger longer.

Kuijken’s finale is deliciously light and gently scintillating, even in the more piquant development. Barenboim’s heavier orchestral body can’t achieve this lightness, though his articulation is clear and the effect jovial enough.

Symphony 86 is the most striking of the set in its zing. Of this Barenboim brings a keen awareness and special zest. Its extended introduction begins idyllically but continues grandly and dramatically before a really dashing Allegro spiritoso, the same marking for the effervescent finale. But the slow movement, entitled Capriccio is the most original in its intently measured, broad-breathed mood-painting with inspired flashes of rhetoric and contrast. The extended second strain of the Minuet similarly becomes more thoughtfully detailed before a homely Trio in which the bassoon’s doubling of the first violins is varied by flute and oboes, the latter partly in duet this time.

Here are the comparative timings:

Timings I  II III IV tt
Barenboim 9:08 7:17  5:44 6:28 28:52
Fischer 8:20 6:27 5:34 6:24 26:45

Barenboim’s introduction is more effective than Fischer’s because it’s more of an Adagio, as marked, taking 1:43 against Fischer’s 1:12. He has more sweetness in his strings, especially at the opening, then more majesty and dramatic contrast. Fischer goes for a sheeny opening and then grandeur and penetrating sonority whose pace anticipates the Allegro about to burst. In this he contrasts insistent energetic bite with lustrous lyricism. Barenboim’s Allegro doesn’t initially have Fischer’s brio. He’s more concerned with clarity and the allure of the full version of the first theme from tr. 5 2:41. But there’s a real edge to his exposition repeat and much later a gloriously impactful entry of trumpets and horns at 7:54 followed at 8:13 by six crashing chords which sound like a model for Beethoven’s Eroica.

To one of Haydn’s most searching slow movements the soft-grained focus of Barenboim’s recording and the humane, quiet emotive strings are well suited. He finds breathing space for reflection and expressive intensity, yet the movement still flows and its telling shifts of harmony are brought out well. The fortissimo climax at tr. 6 3:33 is a fleeting but inevitable outburst of the feeling that’s all around. Fischer is less satisfying because instead of Barenboim’s sorrow within an appreciation of beauty he offers an edgy, sheeny seriousness where everything is emphatically signalled. Consequently his climax seems calculated.

Barenboim’s Minuet has more bite and swagger than Fischer’s purposeful stolidity. Barenboim’s treatment of its thoughtful phase from tr. 7 0:45, recalls the previous movement’s mood but without any stalling and is more effective than Fischer. His Trio’s homeliness has a comely innocence about it, though Fischer here brings out a yielding quality in his folksiness.

Barenboim gives the finale a twinklingly light opening on strings alone before an explosion of exuberant festivity from full orchestra. There’s the pleasing contrast of a gracious second theme at tr. 8 0:57 and everything sweeps along with satisfying inevitability. Fischer is more robust but equally thrilling in sheer momentum and with an elegantly contrasted second theme.

Symphony 87 gets straight into its breezy animation without introduction; its bright sonority seems bathed in light. Its themes transform from the assertive to the lyrical, yet are sufficiently closely related that it doesn’t really become clear until the development that there are effectively four of them. The first starts the movement, the second is a distinctive new phase at tr. 9 0:28, the third resumes the mood of the first even more brightly at 0:56 and the fourth is a bit of fun with first violins’ miniature rising and falling scales at 1:11. Another piece of Haydn trickery is the almost three bars’ silence he puts at 4:46 just before the end of the development, as if to say “Have you thought about all this?”.

The slow movement has a warm, benevolent theme that’s hospitable to embellishment, especially from the woodwind; but ornament is an intrinsic part of its expression. Swirling figures of rhythm and decoration also head the Minuet. The Trio is carried by solo oboe athletically rising to a penetrating top E, shortly after which comes another Haydn reflective silence at tr. 11 2:48, this time of nearly two bars. The finale is all adept vivacity which Haydn relishes calming whenever he wants. And Barenboim is fully engaged with all the twists and turns.

Here are the comparative timings:

Timings I  II

III

IV

tt

Barenboim

6:45

6:46 

4:38

4:31

23:00

Kuijken

7:21

6:39 4:12 6:23 [4:22] 24:35
[22:34]

In the first movement Kuijken’s sforzandi are neater and dynamic contrasts sharper than Barenboim’s. In going for clarity rather than sweep he lacks Barenboim’s more winning excitement and sense of fun. I also prefer Barenboim’s winking simplicity in the fourth theme to Kuijken’s more sophisticated winsomeness.

I’d be surprised if there’s a finer performance than Barenboim’s of the slow movement. There’s an incandescence about his innate feeling for its breadth while still maintaining momentum and wonderfully glowing woodwind solos matched with sentient strings. In comparison Kuijken seems cold as ice in his objectivity.

Barenboim’s Minuet has a robust, open-air quality but perhaps overdoes the steadiness. On the other hand this points up the more shadowy, thoughtful aspects of the second strain and allows for a poised Trio. Kuijken is neater but arguably over-refined and his Trio dispassionate. To the finale Kuijken similarly brings more lustre but I prefer Barenboim’s greater eagerness, excitement and contrasted moments of repose. Kuijken’s tempo is a little faster, as indicated in brackets by the exact timing in comparison with Barenboim. His stated timing is slower because, unlike Barenboim, he makes the second half repeat.

Barenboim’s booklet notes are those by Peter Avis replicated from EMI’s 1996 reissue of Yehudi Menuhin’s Paris cycle. They draw extensively and judiciously on the writing of H.C. Robbins Landon and retain the 1996 misprint describing Symphony 84 as “elegant and suberbly constructed”.

To sum up, all three super-budget recordings of Haydn’s Paris symphonies have their own strengths and weaknesses but offer good value. I hope I’ve indicated some strengths and weaknesses of Fischer and Kuijken above. But, to be more specific about Barenboim under review, his key strength is his ability to identify with the energy, warmth, humour and variety of Haydn. I’d say he does this better than either Fischer or Kuijken. Another significant strength is the excellence of the English Chamber Orchestra’s brilliant attacking and also, when required, refined string playing, its potent brass and the beautifully poised distinctiveness of its woodwind.

The chief weakness of this Barenboim set is an analogue recording that’s not as clear, airy or refined as its more recent rivals. If you’re sensitive to sound quality this could be a problem. On the other hand, you’re less likely to be aware of it just listening to this recording on its own and not comparing it immediately with pure digital ones. Another weakness, again partly owing to the time of the recording, is Barenboim’s somewhat heavy approach to Minuets. Elsewhere it might be said he’s more romantic than later accounts, but I feel that’s to his advantage in presenting a more rounded view of these symphonies. He can excite, he can charm, but he can also move. And it’s clear he can see the whole picture, which is perhaps his greatest strength of all.

Michael Greenhalgh

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