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Joseph HAYDN (1732–1809)
Scena di Berenice, Cantata for soprano and orchestra Hob. XXIVa:10[13:20]
Miseri noi, misera patria, Cantata for soprano and orchestra Hob. XXIVa:7[9:44]
Concerto no.4 in G major for violin, strings and basso continuo Hob. VIIa:4(c.1765) [18:23]
Symphony no.92 in G major ‘Oxford’ Hob. I:92(1789) [26:40]
Marilyn Schmiege (mezzo); Ingrid Seifert (violin);
Cappella Coloniensis/Hans-Martin Linde; Ferdinand Leitner (sym)
rec. Oetkerhalle, Bielefeld, Germany, 29 January 1988; 12 June 1987; Sternenberghalle, Friesenheim bei Lahr, Germany, 22 January 1987. DDD?
Booklet with texts and translations.
Experience Classicsonline

The (P) 2009 and (C) 2008 on the rear cover are somewhat misleading; these performances, courtesy of WDR Cologne Broadcasts, were recorded in 1987-8, when the Cappella Coloniensis were, if not at the cutting edge of historical performance, at least among those concerned with authenticity. The presence of Hans-Martin Linde as their conductor in three of the four items guarantees that their authenticity is not of the extreme kind that some ensembles then practised – it’s effectively period performance without tears, as anyone who has heard his version of the Brandenburg Concertos with his own Linde Consort (formerly on EMI) will be aware.
If memory serves correctly, I hadn’t encountered Marilyn Schmiege before. She has an attractive voice and her performance of the two cantatas is enjoyable. If she sounds a little squally at times in the Scena di Berenice, that’s totally in character for the protagonist of the piece. The two vocal works together take up less than one third of the CD, so it seems odd to make Joseph Haydn Cantatas the large-print title of the whole programme. I’m not even sure how correct it is to label the first work a cantata, when it is properly described as a scena.
Ingrid Seifert’s credentials as a historically aware performer are, of course, well established, since she was the founder of London Baroque. Her performance of Violin Concerto No.4 is an attractive one and she is ably partnered by Linde and the Cappella. You may well prefer to have this concerto in the company of other violin concertos, in which case you won’t go far wrong with Grumiaux and Leppard on a budget-price Eloquence CD (442 8294, Concertos Nos. 1 and 4, with concertos by Michael Haydn and Mozart).
Ferdinand Leitner is best known as the conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic for DG’s classic stereo remakes of Wilhelm Kempff’s Beethoven Piano Concertos. He also made a number of Haydn and Mozart recordings for DG, none of which is currently available. I recall these as being old-school performances, albeit of the sensitive Karl Böhm or Eugen Jochum variety rather than in overblown big-band style.
If I’d heard this performance of the ‘Oxford’ Symphony when it was recorded in 1987, I’d probably have thought it delicate but not fragile, and sensitive to the spirit of the music; it still sounds like a happy compromise between the ‘traditional’ and the ‘authentic’.
It’s not quite in the category of Colin Davis’s classic recordings of the ‘London’ Symphonies, but it’s somewhere in the same territory and I prefer it to Simon Rattle’s recent account; though Rattle’s timings for three of the four movements are faster than Leitner’s, his Berlin Philharmonic recording actually subjectively sounds heavier to me, despite all the virtues outlined in John Quinn’s review. I really must listen again to these Rattle recordings of Symphonies Nos.88-92 and the Sinfonia Concertane; when everyone else seems so sold on them, I find myself distinctly in the minority in recalling them as a trifle heavy (EMI Classics 3 94237 2, 2 CDs).
Perhaps it would be more appropriate to compare Leitner’s performance with the well-received Naxos recording (8.550387, Capella Istropolitana/Barry Wordsworth) where the size of the ensemble and the performances themselves are similar, with almost identical tempi. In the slow movement Leitner is a little faster than Wordsworth, though not to the extent that I felt that his performance sounded unfeeling – just the opposite, in fact. I expected to find Leitner’s ‘Oxford’ Symphony old-fashioned but ended by enjoying it.
Choice of couplings may resolve the choice. With Wordsworth you also get enjoyable performances of Symphonies Nos.85 (La Reine) from the Paris set and No.103 (Drumroll) from the second London series, not the most logical coupling but, perhaps, preferable to the omnium gatherum on Phoenix. It seems to have become something of a tradition recently to combine the Oxford Symphony with the Scena di Berenice: René Jacobs does this (Harmonia Mundi HMC90 1849, with Symphony No.91), as does Nikolaus Harnoncourt on a BBC/Opus Arte DVD (OA0821D, with Arianna a Naxos – see review), but Rattle’s coupling of orchestral works seems to me the most logical.
These Phoenix recordings may not be freshly minted, but they still sound well enough. I’m guessing that they are DDD – Phoenix don’t specify, unless it’s hidden away where I haven’t found it. Nor do they advertise the total time of the CD, though it’s a respectable enough length.
The whole series to which this recording belongs comes with some very odd cover shots, in this case depicting chairs stacked at an alarming angle alongside the tables of a French pavement café. The booklet devotes a whole page to the artist, Nancy Horowitz, almost as much as Uwe Kraemer’s notes about the music. Why do we need to know all this about the artist when there is nothing at all about the soprano and violin soloists and not much more about the Cappella Coloniensis? I’d certainly have liked to know more about Marilyn Schmiege than about Ms Horowitz.
The booklet implies that all these works were little known in the 1980s, though there certainly were recordings of the Violin Concertos then, and the ‘Oxford’ Symphony had certainly notched up several recordings. The English translation is generally comprehensible, though hardly idiomatic: “In the concerto in g-major ... Haydn demands as much from the soloist as the third position” is a garbled version of the original, which actually means that he makes no high demands on the soloist, nothing more difficult than the third position.
This wouldn’t be one of my top recommendations for Haydn’s anniversary year, but it is attractive enough, especially as it sells at an attractive price. If the programme appeals, the performances and recording will, too.
Brian Wilson


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