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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]
 


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.
 
Keith Anderson’s 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.
 
Tim Perry
 
see also reviews by Christopher Howell and Jonathan Woolf


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