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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 102 in B flat (1795) [29:58]
Symphony No. 104 in D (‘London’) (1795) [31:19]
English Chamber Orchestra/Jeffrey Tate
rec. 13, 15-16 November 1985, No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London. DDD.
EMI CLASSICS ENCORE 5090152 [61:18]
Experience Classicsonline


The budget-price reissue of Jeffrey Tate’s set of Haydn’s twelve ‘London’ symphonies is now complete: Nos. 94, 95 and 97 on Encore 3 55679 2; 96 and 98 on Encore 3 41428 2; 99 and 101 on Encore 3 88666 2; 100 and 103 on Encore 3 72472 2 and now 102 and 104 on this CD. Nos. 94, 95, 97, 99 and 101 are also due to appear shortly on a 2-CD Classics for Pleasure set (5 21855 2, around £8 in the UK).
 

Taken on their own, Tate’s readings of Nos. 102 and 104 live up to the generally positive reviews which greeted them twenty years ago – well-chosen tempi, light and crisp playing and warm, well-balanced recording. 

At bargain price (£6 or less in the UK) they offer good value, especially those CDs which contain three symphonies, but the complete set, spread over five single CDs, is less economical than EMI’s own rival Beecham set on two Gemini 2-CD sets (5 85770 2 and 5 85513 2, MusicWeb Bargain of the Month, each at around £8.50 in the UK – see review) and Colin Davis’s Concertgebouw recordings on two Philips Duo sets (442 611-2 and 442 614-2). The Beecham is set is also available in a 6-CD box together with The Seasons (3 67893 2, at around £22 in the UK – see review). 

Beecham’s recordings, of course, are in a category of their own: where others abide our question, he remains free, to paraphrase Wordsworth on Shakespeare. He employed an outdated edition of the Haydn symphonies, took repeats as and when he felt like it, added the kitchen sink and everything he had to Handel’s Messiah, often rehearsed in the most perfunctory manner – yet the result is pure gold. One of my earliest encounters with Haydn’s London symphonies was on a Beecham mono version of Nos. 93 and 94, a CBS recording issued in the UK on the Philips Classical Favourites label, still available on mid-price Sony SMK89890, coupled with No.103. Later I bought his stereo LP of Nos. 103 and 104 – a major purchase at full price for an impecunious undergraduate – and I would never want to be without his recordings of some of these symphonies. 

It is, however, with the more modern recordings of Colin Davis and (in No.104) Dorati that I shall be comparing these Tate recordings. Dorati’s performances are now, unfortunately, available only in the 33-CD complete set, apart from the 2-CD set of the Paris symphonies and a budget-price Eloquence single CD coupling 94, 100 and 101 (467 405 2). Look around, however, and you may still be able to find a copy of 460 628-2, a recommendable mid-price coupling of Nos. 94, 100 and 104. 

A comparison of his timings for No.104 with Dorati and Davis indicates how much slower Tate is in every movement except the finale. Tate’s 9:38 for the first movement is a minute longer than Dorati and Davis, his 9:41 for the second movement a minute and a half longer than both his rivals, who take an identical 8:08. In the third movement he is a mere six seconds longer than Dorati – Davis is brisker than either by half a minute – and in the finale he actually undercuts Dorati by six seconds and Davis by five. 

The slow introduction to No.104 is rather ponderous, almost Beethovenian; the lightness of the opening bars of the Allegro provides an attractive contrast but I would still have preferred a faster tempo for the movement as a whole, for all the fine articulation of the playing. Dorati’s much brisker slow introduction actually seems to be making more of a statement about its own importance than Tate’s. The opening of the Allegro section is just as light as Tate’s and he moves the music along more convincingly. His orchestra, the Philharmonia Hungarica, may not be the equal of the ECO or the Concertgebouw, but there is nothing to fault in their playing here. 

Davis’s slow introduction is perhaps the least overtly impressive of the three, smaller in scale than either Tate or Dorati, but with beautiful contrast between the louder and softer sections. The Allegro almost slides in unnoticed, beautifully softly; though the Concertgebouw is the largest orchestra of the three, they achieve some wonderfully gentle playing. Their take on this movement is more refined and civilised; this might be thought to be somewhat at the expense of liveliness, but there is plenty of room for that later. This is, after all, merely marked Allegro, unlike the first movements of some of the other London symphonies (Allegro Vivace for No.102, Allegro con spirito for 103).

Refinement is also the watchword for the other movements of this symphony in Davis’s interpretation, with some beautifully lilting playing. One would hardly think this was the Concertgebouw; they play as delicately as any chamber orchestra – if anything, even more so than the ECO for Tate – but they give an appropriately large-scale account of the finale. With analogue recording which hardly shows its age, this is the version of No.104 to which I return, with Dorati an honourable silver medallist, another analogue recording very little inferior to the digital EMI, and Tate a very acceptable bronze. 

In the finale Tate is marginally preferable to either of his competitors – a lively, dancing movement to round off the symphony, lighter than either of the others. If the whole symphony had been of this quality, I might have had to reverse my order of merit. As it is, no-one who is introduced to this symphony by any one of these recordings need feel short-changed. 

Colin Davis’s version of No.102 appears on the same Duo set as his No.104 (442 611-2). Here I felt honours rather more even. The EMI engineers appear to have decided to restore the repeats in the second and third movements for this reissue, hence, presumably, the considerable discrepancies in the stated and actual timings of these movements referred to below. The stated timings of 6:35 and 5:40 are only a little slower than Davis’s, but the actual times of 8:32 and 8:15 make these movements more substantial. Tate’s slow introduction is far less ponderous than that for No.104 and his Allegro vivace is really lively, as is his exuberant vivace finale. Not that these qualities are absent from the Davis version – far from it. 

Whether to observe all repeats in movements two and three is partly a matter of practicality – the Davis recording would have over-stretched the 2x2-CD format if all repeats had been included – but also one of scale. My personal feeling is that, since these are comparatively large-scale symphonies, on a par with Mozart’s Nos. 39-41, it is right to include them; I didn’t feel that either movement outstayed its welcome at Tate’s hands. 

No.102 is perhaps the least-known of the later London Symphonies, since it lacks a nickname. If No.101 had not already been nicknamed The Clock, the name might have gone to No.102, especially when the playing of the slow movement ticks along as Tate’s does here. In fact, as the notes point out, we now know that this was the symphony performed on the night when the chandelier crashed down at the Haymarket Theatre, miraculously without injuring anyone, so this symphony ought now to be known as The Miracle, not No.96, to which the honour has traditionally gone. Actually, both are miracles of composition, as are all the London symphonies. As performed here by Tate and the ECO, No.102 would certainly have a strong claim to the title. 

The original EMI CD tracked the slow introductions to the first movement of each symphony separately, which may be useful for music lecturers, though I cannot see any other point in it. The booklet and the insert still indicate five tracks for No.102, with the slow introduction given separately; in fact this Encore reissue runs to nine tracks only – four for No.102, one for each movement, and five for No.104, with a separate track for the introduction of 104 only. The timings given are also incorrect – massively so for No.102, which is actually almost five minutes longer than indicated. I recently had cause to take Regis to task for wildly incorrect track information on their 2-CD Tallis Portrait; I certainly hardly expected a major label like EMI to confuse purchasers in this way. The correct track and time information is: 

Symphony No. 102

1.       Largo – Allegro vivace [8:18]
2.       Adagio [8:32]
3.       Menuetto: Allegro & Trio [8:15]
4.       Finale: Vivace [4:53]

Symphony No. 104

5.       Adagio – [2:22]
6.       Allegro [7:16]
7.       Andante [9:41]
8.       Menuetto : Allegro & Trio [5:15]
9.       Finale: Allegro spiritoso [6:43]

Total time 61:18, not 56:24, as stated. 

I wish I were optimistic that EMI would correct these mistakes.
  If you already have the Davis or Beecham sets, this reissue will make a useful supplement. If you don’t yet know the London symphonies, this CD makes an excellent introduction to them, but be warned – having heard it, you are likely to want more, in which case the Beecham or Davis two 2-CD sets will be more economical. 

The notes are more than adequate – much better than usually provided for budget-price recordings, except by Naxos and Hyperion. The information about the identity of the ‘true’ Miracle symphony is not exactly hot off the press, but it does prove that Emi have not just recycled some old material. Could we not have had a rather larger reproduction of the Hogarth painting on the cover and the inlay?

Brian Wilson

 


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