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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
The Complete Overtures
see end of review for details
Haydn Sinfonietta Wien/Manfred Huss
rec. Casino Zögernitz, Vienna, Austria, September 1994 and November 1994
BIS BISCD1818 [60:55 + 57:05] 
Experience Classicsonline

Having already enjoyed Manfred Huss’s boxset of Music for Prince Esterházy and the King of Naples (BIS CD1796 - see review), I was quick to lay a claim for The Complete Overtures. This 2 CD set - two for the price of one - comes in a single width jewel case in the same nice cardboard slipcase as the others in this series, so they will go together in a nice family group on your shelf. As with the other set and the rest of the series, Haydn Sinfonietta Wien’s recordings of these works were originally produced and released by the Koch/Schwann label, and have been remastered by BIS Records for this collection.

The advantage of collecting the 22 extant overtures by Joseph Haydn in one place is that the pieces chart the course of the composer’s creative career from its beginnings in the late baroque, via high classicism to the tender beginnings of that wholly new musical idiom, the ‘romantic’. This chronological journey is followed by the sequence of the overtures on these two discs, starting with Acide (1762/63) up to The Seasons (1801), the programme consisting of overtures to Haydn’s operas, German Singspiele and oratorios. His operas remain largely unknown today, but producing operatic entertainments was one of Haydn’s principal duties during his long employment at the court of the Esterházy family. By the time of Orfeo ed Euridice he was taking a break from this employment through the death of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy in 1790, and with this piece written for production in London you can already hear the advancement of greater daring in the musical language - pre-echoes of Beethoven in fact, with plenty of wild harmonic twists and turns.

The later overtures were composed as the introductions to Haydn’s great oratorios. Quoting Manfred Huss on this subject in his booklet notes, “Haydn opened the musical gates far into the nineteenth century.” That justly famous and remarkable Representation of Chaos, the overture to The Creation, with its mysterious harmonies, was hailed by some of Haydn’s contemporaries as the most revolutionary and modern music of its time. This was extended in Haydn’s last major work The Seasons, in which the introduction to Winter has a remarkable reach; seeming to draw Vivaldi and Wagner together in an four minute aural painting which has more the atmosphere of a Turner than the cleanly defined lines of, say, Goya - more of a Haydn contemporary.

You might think that with all this heavyweight expression on disc 2 that disc 1 would be more disposable, but nothing could be further from the truth. The earlier works often take the form of a Sinfonia, often with a three movement structure which can hide even more musical nuggets than the later single movement character overtures. The Poco adagio central movement of L’Infedeltà delusa has a gorgeous solo for the oboe, and Philemon und Baucis is very forward looking - full of drama, but like all of these pieces, shot through with the kind of wit which always keeps you on Haydn’s side. I also particularly like the suspensions and little inflections in the opening of Il Ritorno di Tobia, which is followed by the kind of curtain raising passagework which makes one want to hear the rest of the opera.

The Haydn Sinfonietta Wien gives us the best of that ‘authentic’ sound, which has an open sense of clarity, and a theatrical dramatic feel which is based on orchestral colour and dynamic contrast and articulation rather than sheer massed volume of sound. This authenticity extends to the use of orchestral parts based the originals used at the first performances, rather than later published editions. There is continuo as part of the orchestral mix, but this is held low in the mix, harpsichord for disc 1, and fortepiano for the later works. This hides itself in the texture even better than the harpsichord used in the earlier overtures, being suitably unobtrusive through most of the recording. Where it does come through is in a superb rumbly bass which drives the music at crucial moments. Living with Haydn’s complete overtures is a bit like living with a miniature version of his complete symphonies, watching a career and personality grow and develop over two discs rather than the equivalent of over 30. True, he was somewhat restricted by his service at Eszterháza - the ‘Hungarian Versailles’ - but as with the earlier symphonies, these pieces all have an energy and a creative sparkle which no doubt transcended even the high expectations of his employers. For this reason, and because the Haydn Sinfonietta Wien once again comes like a breath of fresh air through your speakers,

I would recommend this set wholeheartedly to anyone. The fact that there is virtually no competition out there for a collection of this nature and is being marketed at a very reasonable price makes it one of life’s little gifts.

Dominy Clements

Track listing
Acide: Sinfonia in D major, Hob.Ia:5 (1762/63rev.1773) [6:45]
Lo Speziale: Sinfonia in G major, Hob.Ia:10 (1768) [6:01]
Le Pescatrici: Sinfonia in D major, Hob.I:106 (1769-1770) [3:11]
L’Infedeltà delusa: Sinfonia in C major, Hob.Ia:1 (1773) [7:40]
Der Götterrath: Sinfonia in C major, Hob.XXIXa:1a (1773) [3:40]
Philemon und Baucis: Overture in D minor, Hob.Ia:8 (1773) [5:51]
Il Ritorno di Tobia: Overture in C minor, Hob.Ia:2 (1774) [6:15]
L’Incontro improvviso: Sinfonia in D major, Hob.Ia:6 (1775) [7:10]
Die Feuersbrunst: Sinfonia in C major, Hob.XXIXa:4 (1776-77) [8:14]
Il Mondo della Luna: Sinfonia in C major, Hob.XXVIII:7 (1777) [4:24]
Overture in D major, Hob.Ia:7 (1777) [4:12]
La vera costanza: Sinfonia in B major, Hob.Ia:15 (1778/85) [8:08]
L’Isola disabitata: Overture in G minor, Hob.Ia:13 (1779) [7:10]
La fedeltà premiata: Sinfonia in D major, Hob.Ia:11 (1780) [3:41]
Orlando Paladino: Sinfonia in B major, Hob.Ia:16 (1782) [3:25]
Armida: Sinfonia in B major, Hob.Ia:14 (1783) [5:18]
Overture in D major, Hob.Ia:4 (1784?) [3:28]
Die Sieben Letzten Worte Unseres Erlösers Am Kreuze: Introduzione in D minor, Hob.XX:1 (original version for orchestra; 1785-86) [4:52]
Orfeo ed Euridice ossia L’Animo del Filosofo: Overture in C major, Hob.Ia:3 (1791) [3:45]
Die Schöpfung: Overture ‘Die Vorstellung des Chaos’, Hob.XXI:2 (1797) [4:59]
Die Jahreszeiten: Overture to ‘Der Herbst’, Hob.XXI:3 (1801) [2:12]
Die Jahreszeiten: Overture to ‘Der Winter’, Hob.XXI:3 (1801) [3:58]

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