This reissue translates recordings previously available on the
Warner Elatus label to their Alte Werk 50th
series. Apart from the use of round-cornered SACD-type cases,
which I almost invariably find have been slightly damaged in
the post, the CD remains as recommendable now as before. Indeed,
the still life artwork on the cover is preferable to the nondescript
Elatus and Apex covers.
These are three highly enjoyable named symphonies in good performances
at mid price. When you consider that the named works are often
among Haydn’s best, and that these are no exception, this
looks like a pretty good offer.
There is more than one way with Haydn, as a comparison of Harnoncourt’s
version of Symphony No. 31with Nimbus’s highly regarded
Adam Fischer account makes very clear. (Symphonies Nos. 21-39,
A and B, on NI5683-7, 5 CDs).
First, there’s the natural horns of the Concentus Musicus,
especially noticeable if you start to play the CD at your normal
listening level. It’s known as mit dem Hornsignal
symphony because of that opening fanfare
and the prominent horn parts throughout, so it’s only right
that the effect should be stunning. It’s a bit in-your-face,
but I’m all for natural horns in this repertoire, provided
that they’re properly tamed: played in tune, as they are
At first the Fischer version sounds a little tame by comparison,
with the horns more integrated into the sound-picture. I expected
to emerge from listening to the two performances of the first
movement, Building a Library
style, with a clear preference
for Harnoncourt. If I have to plump, I suppose it would have
to be Harnoncourt, both in this movement and in the symphony
as a whole, but I can - and shall - live happily with both. An
older Hungarian recording with the Liszt Chamber Orchestra conducted
by Janos Rolla, with which I lived happily for several years,
now sounds very understated by comparison, though it might still
make a decent budget recommendation if reissued in the lowest
price category (Hungaroton HRC088, no longer available).
Then there’s the length of the symphony in Harnoncourt’s
version. Whereas Fischer takes 4:55 for the first movement, Harnoncourt
runs to 7:20, not because he’s impossibly slow but because
he observes all the repeats. Similarly, in the second movement,
Fischer’s 6:24 compares with Harnoncourt’s 9:23.
The advantage of Harnoncourt’s approach is to give these
two movements their full weight against the shorter Minuet and
the Finale, the latter of which runs to around 10 minutes in
both versions; it’s perfectly arguable that Fischer’s
way with repeats makes this final movement seem too important.
As on Harnoncourt’s other Haydn recordings, you get a roller-coaster
ride in his version of No. 31 - on the edge of your seat in places
and marvelling at the pure lyricism in others. With Fischer,
you’ll have a more civilised experience; he never pulls
the tempi around as Harnoncourt does. You pays your money and
you takes your pick: I’m afraid that I shall just give
you the facts and sit this one out on the fence, except to point
out the financial implications.
The downside of Harnoncourt’s observing all repeats is
that you get more music for your bucks with Fischer. The Alte
Werk CD could hardly have squeezed on more music at 77:42, but
you still only get three symphonies, whereas Nimbus offer four
or five symphonies on each disc in the set. I must admit that
I’d have taken that into account myself if I hadn’t
received both versions free as a reviewer.
It used to be believed that Symphony No. 59 obtained its fiery
nickname from its association with Großmann’s play Die
, but that belief no longer seems to hold water.
Whatever the reason - like most of the nicknames, it didn’t
originate with Haydn himself - it’s an enjoyable work and
it receives a very good performance here, with fewer extremes
than No. 31. Apart from a lively and enjoyable first movement,
tempi throughout are very similar to those of Müller-Brühl
with the Cologne Chamber Orchestra on a recommendable CD of Nos.
41, 58 and 59 (Naxos 8.557092) and to those of Vilmos Tátrai
with the Hungarian Chamber Orchestra on a deleted Hungaroton
recording which also offers La Chasse
and which would
be well worth resurrecting on a bargain label (HRC103, Symphonies
49, 59 and 73).
I might have preferred Harnoncourt, avowedly an authenticist,
to have used a harpsichord, here and in No. 31 and maybe even
in No. 73 - after all, Haydn added a prominent harpsichord part
to the finale of Symphony No. 98, a joke which would have had
no point if its use had not still been common at that late date.
I’m certainly not, however, going to write off these generally
attractive performances for the lack of it.
It’s the finale of No. 73 that gets it the hunting nickname, La
. Some performances take just over four minutes for
this movement, whereas Harnoncourt takes 5:11. The opening does
sound a little measured but one soon adjusts; after all, it’s
a hunt, where the last thing the participants want to happen
would be to break a neck, so a break-neck tempo could be deemed
inappropriate. Harnoncourt isn’t the slowest interpreter
of this movement: Bela Drahos with the Esterházy Sinfonia
takes 5:49, which, in my book, makes this CD one of the least
effective in Naxos’s generally very worthwhile series of
the Haydn symphonies. (Nos. 70, 71 and 73, 8.555708). Fey, on
the other hand, opens at breakneck speed and then pulls the tempo
around in places. I think he is a little too extreme here; though
he takes just a few seconds less than Harnoncourt, he’s
fast and furious in places and there’s just too much rubato
my taste here in an otherwise very good performance.
Harnoncourt is especially effective in pointing Haydn’s
little trick, some 40 seconds before the end of the movement,
of making the listener think it’s all over. Blum doesn’t
leave a long enough gap for the joke to be effective. He’s
also effective with the trick in the slow introduction to the
first movement where Haydn twice comes to a full stop; that’s
easier to pull off, though I don’t think Thomas Fey is
quite so effective in his otherwise very fine version with the
Heidelberg Symphony Orchestra (Hänssler 98.517) which I
recommended in my June
2009 Download Roundup
. As in the comparison of No. 31, the
choice is between Harnoncourt’s occasionally wayward but
totally defensible performance and Fey’s greater predictability.
You won’t get any shocks with Fey, unless you react negatively
to his tempo changes in the finale. I must admit that I’m
just a little less enthusiastic about this version than I was,
having compared it with Harnoncourt.
Those older Tátrai versions of Nos. 59 and 73 would be
worth reissuing at budget price, but are not really competitive
with Harnoncourt. My choice of a recording of La Chasse
however, rest unhelpfully with another performance which is no
longer available - David Blum’s version with the Esterházy
Orchestra, one to which I frequently return.
Blum’s handling of the Andante
in particular calls
for comparison with the ticking clock in the Clock
emphasising the extent to which the London symphonies, far from
standing apart from the earlier works, are actually a consummation
of them. He combines the Menuetto
and the Finale on one
track lasting 7:09; his cut-down account of the Minuet is a little
too fast for my taste but his Finale, though fast, is never helter-skelter.
These Blum performances, formerly on the Vanguard label, really
ought to be reissued. La Chasse
came generously coupled
with Nos. 39, 70 and 75 on 08.9061.71.
If Harnoncourt’s coupling appeals, don’t hesitate.
If you’d prefer to test-drive it and can stand the intrusive
advertising on each track, you can listen to the earlier Elatus
issue of this recording free on We7
If you like it, as I’m sure you will, you should also try
the Apex coupling at budget price of Symphonies Nos. 30, 53 and
69 - highly recommended
Kevin Sutton - in case that, too, is transferred to the higher-priced
-anniversary label. Even more inexpensively, Amazon.co.uk
offer Harnoncourt’s versions of Nos. 45 and 60 as a download
for a mere £2.79 and iTunes have Symphony No. 68 and the ‘London’ Symphonies,
a 5-CD set, for £10.99.