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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 22 in E flat major, The Philosopher (1764) [18:31]
Symphony No. 49 in F minor, La Passione (1768) [25:41]
Divertimento in A major, Hob.X.10 (c.1763) [13:24]
Divertimento in B flat major, Hob.III.1 (c.1758) [14:07]
Sinfonia Classica/Gernot Süssmuth
rec. 2007, Parish Church, Tavistock, Devon
Experience Classicsonline

The chamber orchestra Sinfonia Classica, based in the west of England, acquits itself admirably in these Haydn performances. Everything is nicely balanced and appropriately judged in terms of the repertoire of Haydn’s earlier career, and the ensemble sound is most pleasing. So too is the chosen programme, offering two symphonies and two divertimentos, the latter much less well known but just as central to the composer’s life.
The ensemble plays on modern instruments but has a secure understanding of 18th century style, with tempi that always sound right. Take the opening movement of La Passione, for instance. At nearly eleven minutes of tempo Adagio this ‘church sonata’ style will challenge performers, but the results are pleasing on the ear and full of subtleties in the phrasing and scoring that ensure the interest is maintained. The succeeding Allegro assai movement, like the final Presto, has abundant vitality, and the latter an intensity that ranks it among the highlights of Haydn’s stürm und drang style.
Similar things might be observed in the other symphony included here: The Philosopher (No. 22). The shape of the piece overall is similar, with an extended opening Adagio and two fast movements surrounding a minuet. But the sound is quite different, unique even, because of the presence of two cor anglais. These instruments make their impression on the sheer sound of a performance, but their employment proved a false trail and not until Berlioz did a symphony feature a cor anglais again. They sound well here, and so too do the other wind instruments, the pair of horns, which are quite brilliantly played.
As a whole the performance may be pleasing but it does not eclipse the rival ‘original instrument’ recording by the Hanover Band (Hyperion Helios CDHS5116), which also includes keyboard continuo, which is omitted by Sinfonia Classica in all these performances. This music gains by the inclusion of continuo, particularly in terms of rhythmic sharpness and focus, so its omission is to be regretted, whatever the other merits of the interpretations.
The two divertimenti are pleasing on the ear if – deliberately - less imaginative in content. The music was intended to be played in the background while the aristocrats were at play or at dinner, and hearing it in its own right goes to show what artistry Haydn and his contemporaries brought to bear on all they created.
The ensemble plays on modern instruments but has a secure understanding of 18th century style, with tempi that always sound right.
Terry Barfoot

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