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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 97 in C major (1792) [23:35]
L’anima del filosofo ossia Orfeo ed Euridice: overture (1791) [3:49]
Symphony No. 102 in B flat major (1794) [23:49]
Osterreichisch-Ungarische Haydn-Philharmonie/Adam Fischer
rec. Haydnsaal, Schloss Esterhazy, Eisenstadt 14-17 September 2006. DDD

This is Adam Fischer’s third SACD of Haydn symphonies for MDG, following Nos. 92 and 94 (MDG 901 1325-6, 2004) and Nos. 88 and 102 (MDG 901 1452-6, review) like this SACD recorded in September 2006. In the first movement introduction of 97 Fischer contrasts well the arresting loud opening chord with the silky grace and smooth flute solo which follows. This procedure is neatly paralleled when the firm Vivace spotlighting trumpets and drums is contrasted with the lighter passages for oboes and bassoon. Everything is lightly sprung without any understatement of the passages of verve which are fittingly vivacious rather than strenuous. While a modern orchestra is used, the small string body balances well with the wind. The SACD recording is a great help. The Haydnsaal ambience is airy but its glow never obscures the clarity of the ensemble. The pause before the second theme (tr. 1 1:58) is beautifully judged to usher in a creamy, briefly more innocent phase and the coda (6:45) goes into a gracious meditation before its closing majesty.

I compared Fischer’s 1989 recording of this symphony with the same orchestra and in the same location, in his complete Haydn cycle on CD (Brilliant Classics 99925). Here are the comparative timings:







Fischer 2006






Fischer 1989






The 1989 recording has heavier accents, an introduction with more emphasis on mystery but less on grace. In the main body of the movement there’s a sense of boisterous and graceful strands in competition where in 2006 Fischer integrates them more organically so they appear ultimately all of a piece, a blending process achieved by less extreme dynamic contrasts than in 1989. The greater pace and momentum in 2006 is also an important factor in making the experience seamless. The 1989 recording is less successful in getting clarity as well as glow. The 1989 coda begins with an alluring calm luxury but its close is more formal where in 2006 there’s an irresistible momentum.

The 2006 slow movement has an elegant and smoothly phrased refinement, the sforzandi only gently applied. In the first variation (tr. 2 1:47) the first violins’ triplets are light on their feet. In the second variation (2:33) the outbursts of trumpets and drums are graphic. The third variation (4:02) begins vigorously but the first violins’ soft repeat, sul ponticello (from 4:19) adds an eerie veneer. The 1989 Fischer is more leisurely, again with accents more marked but then the first variation seems to stir itself reluctantly where the 2006 Fischer is eager to dance. The 1989 outbursts in the second variation aren’t, as in 2006, a natural extension of the minor key brooding. The third variation is lively enough but the clarity of the wind parts as distinct from the strings is more appreciable in 2006, just as the coda (5:40) becomes more tenderly reflective and positive so you don’t wonder, as in 1989, when it’s going to end.

The 2006 Minuet starts grandly but the soft repeat of the opening phrase establishes a playful approach furthered by the later repeat, staccato and sudden loud timpani solo. Fischer gives this all plenty of bounce and momentum which enables him to interpret the Allegretto marking in a fairly steady manner. The Trio dances more decorously while Fischer consistently just holds it back a little with self-conscious charm. The 1989 Minuet has a greater toned grandeur but drags its boots somewhat. The timpani solo is less emphatic. The 2006 Minuet takes itself less seriously to happy effect. The 1989 Trio is a touch more hesitant which gives its neat pointing a slightly mechanical feel. In 2006 it’s better phrased which gives it a more winking, cheeky manner.

Something I hadn’t noticed before Fischer’s 2006 recording is the kinship between the opening of the Minuet and the finale. The latter is a kind of lighter, friskier, jokier variation of the former, thus extending all the games Haydn has already had with that Minuet theme. The 2006 finale has a light opening first phrase but the loud retort of the second is a touch understated by Fischer who throughout emphasises the movement’s humour. At first I wanted it to let its hair down more, but on repetition Fischer’s approach won me over. Comparing his 1989 recording helped as, while this starts merrily enough, the greater dynamic contrasts ultimately overwhelm it, giving it overmuch a Beethovenian charge and inappropriate heroic tone. The cheeriness of 2006 seems to me about right with more subtly graded dynamics and a fine balance between weight and vivacity. At the return of the opening theme (from tr. 4 3:07) the lightly articulated lower strings’ accompaniment has a deliciously gently percussive effect. Fischer particularly enjoys playing with the listener in the coda where from 4:33 there are several potential endings, some unexpected but by now plausible, before the real thing. This is the only currently available No. 97 on SACD in the UK.

As an interval diversion between the two symphonies on this CD comes Haydn’s overture to an Orpheus and Eurydice opera never completed because a licence wasn’t granted for performance. In the slow introduction sombre chords and what develops as a gruff martial manner contrast with sorrowful pleading. The fast section which follows (from tr. 5 0:41) sees a comely, oboe led lyrical tune alternating with a vigorous military tutti which, however, grows more playful. By the end you feel things might turn out sunnily. Fischer gives us a brief but vivid experience.

Symphony 102 is given a probing yet sheenily sensitive introduction by Fischer, honouring the melody and its progression before a lightly articulated Vivace of rounded tone and fine balance which gives the wind equal if not more prominence than the strings. I fancy there’s a touch more verve in the exposition repeat now we’re used to the effects Haydn introduces and Fischer ensures the dynamic contrasts are stimulating rather than oppressive. The accents are lightly pointed and might be felt understated at first but this approach works to advantage in the development which becomes an assured progression of argument and in the recapitulation the contributions of the trumpets and drums are festive.

To get another perspective on historically informed performance with modern instruments I compared the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/Nikolaus Harnoncourt 1988 recording (Elatus 2564 60659-2). Here are the comparative timings:







Fischer 2006






Harnoncourt 1988






Harnoncourt brings more contrast to the first movement slow introduction, with a timing of 2:02 in comparison with Fischer’s 1:36. This gives it more space and an operatic sense of drama unfolding. His Vivace is cheerier with more rhythmic emphasis than tonal weight but the sudden ff blasts more dramatized than Fischer’s and the strings with more of an abrasive crispness closer to that of period ones, aided by the drier recording. The tougher elements, like the turbulence which rebuffs the flute’s too early recapitulation (tr. 6 5:58 in Fischer) are more graphically displayed.

The slow movement has an elaborately decorative yet tender melody with a delicate continuation and intricate accompaniment involving solo cello. Fischer finds in it a certain winsome fragility, realized with a lovely density of tone. Harnoncourt shapes it more comfortably, like an intermezzo. Fischer is more enigmatic with starker dynamic contrasts and a more free spirited delivery.

This Minuet is marked Allegro and Fischer, as in Symphony 97, holds the tempo back slightly which gives it more humour. There’s still plenty of brio. Like a rustic determined to show he’s in fashion he begins in a preening manner but soon the violins’ repeated low crotchets have a real stomp about them. The slightly slower tempo suits the Trio even more with its warm, oboe solo with bassoon backed by reducing the strings to soloists for intimate effect, symphony briefly transformed to serenade. Harnoncourt makes the Minuet a true Allegro with plenty of bounce and skittering flutes and violins but there’s a dashing splendour about it which leaves little room for humour. His Trio, though relaxed and charming, an idyllic centre, is somewhat artificially contrasted in tempo where Fischer’s greater consistency of tempo makes the Trio balmier.

Again with the finale Fischer made me notice a kinship with the opening of the Minuet, though it’s less strong than in Symphony 97. It’s neatly articulated and moves from the boisterous to the delicate with deft sleight of hand. Harnoncourt is a little more graceful, Fischer favours a more darting vivacity, if not quite as much bite to the loud passages and accents as Harnoncourt, they match the rest well. As in Symphony 97 Fischer toys more markedly and effectively with potential endings from tr. 9 3:57. You’re left with the impression of a symphony abounding with good humour and ingenuity. In sum both Harnoncourt and Fischer are satisfying in different ways.

No one has more experience of recording Haydn symphonies than Fischer, in the light of which his interpretation is individual yet highly persuasive, sophisticated, with a fine transparency of texture and easy to live with. Nevertheless a total playing time of 52 minutes is stingy.

Michael Greenhalgh



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