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Great Haydn Symphonies
Symphony No. 6 in D, Le Matin [22:36]
Symphony No. 45 in f sharp minor, Abschiedssymphonie -
Symphony No. 48 in C, Maria Theresa [26:42]
Symphony No. 82 in C, L’Ours - The Bear [25:23]
Symphony No. 92 in G, Oxford [27:11]
Symphony No. 94 in G, Surprise [23:43]
Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra/Adam Fischer
rec. Haydnsaal, Schloß Esterházy, Eisenstadt, Austria, September
1988, April 1989, September 1990, September 1992 and June 1995.
NIMBUS NI7041/2 [75:57 + 76:43]
There are two ways to obtain the complete Haydn symphonies:
a third set on Sony, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies seems
no longer to be generally available in the UK, even as a download.
One was made some time ago by Antal Doráti with the Philharmonia
Hungarica (Decca 448 5312, 33 CDs). From this set only the Paris
Symphonies seem currently to be separately available (Decca
E473 8102) and, at prices ranging from around £165 to £195 –
even more, £352.15, for the download from hmvdigital.com – buying
the whole thing may be something of a daunting proposition.
Even as a download, only that Paris set, two Double
Decca sets of the London Symphonies and a Decca Eloquence
recording of Nos. 94, 100 and 101 remain available separately.
These are fine performances of which I can speak from personal
experience, having owned several of them on LP; I still have
and regularly play some of the smaller CD sets from the series
which were once available.
There is, however, a far less expensive way to obtain the symphonies
complete, from the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra under Adam
Fischer; the whole set comes on just 8 CDs in mp3 format (NI1722)
and can be purchased from MusicWeb International for £23.00
post free – see review
and find the offer here.
The discs can be played directly from any CD, SACD or blu-ray
player which offers mp3 playback, but it’s better to drop and
drag the files onto a computer hard drive and play them from
Dominy Clements in recommending the set went so far as to include
graphic print-outs of the same segment of Symphony No.1 from
the normal CD and the mp3 version, demonstrating not only that
they sound identical but that there is objective evidence to
support the point.
The selection listed above comes from that complete set and,
although I don’t have access to that mp3 edition on disc, I’ve
been listening to some of the symphonies in mp3 sound from the
Naxos Music Library and I’m blessed if I can hear any difference
between the versions on CD and the mp3 equivalents.
I’ve reviewed the classicsonline.com downloads of Symphonies
Nos.1-20 – July 2012/2 Download Roundup
– and Symphonies 21-39 and ‘107’-‘108’ (also known as ‘A’ and
‘B’) – July 2009 Download Roundup.
Though I could hardly recommend the downloads when they are
more expensive (£39.95) than their physical equivalents on 5
CDs (NI5426-30 and NI5683-7 respectively, £23.00 each post free
from MusicWeb International), I was able to confirm the high
quality of the mp3 sound. So if you are looking for a complete
set of the Haydn symphonies that mp3 set, NI1722, looks to me
like the best buy.Purchase
If, however, you would like to ease yourself into this wonderful
music gradually, the ‘Great Haydn Symphonies’ pair of CDs, obtainable
from MusicWeb International for £12 post paid, would be an excellent
way to dip your toe into the water.
By no means all the Haydn symphonies with a nickname received
their nomenclature from Haydn himself, and by no means all of
them are accurate. In this case, however, the set of six nicknamed
works provides a very useful peg on which to hang a 2-CD set
of works from all periods of Haydn’s long productive life. Not
only that, but these are six of my own favourites among the
composer’s huge symphonic output.
No.6 comes from the earliest period of his tenure with the Esterházy
family. It’s one of a series of three linked works, depicting
Morning, Noon and Evening, though it stands well enough on its
own. Early it may be, but Haydn never really had a period when
his music didn’t sound fully accomplished and its appeal is
enhanced by the excellent performance which it receives.
Symphony No.45 is the most famous of the Sturm und Drang
symphonies from Haydn’s middle period, around 1770. The name
Sturm und Drang or storm and stress refers properly
to the pre-romantic literature of the period, notably to a series
of works by Goethe and Schiller. The story behind the last movement,
with the musicians leaving one by one as a hint to their employer
that they needed a break, is well known but that doesn’t diminish
the power of the music; it remains unhackneyed no matter how
many times I must have heard it. Perhaps the performance here
doesn’t quite match the power of a Vanguard recording with Antonio
Janigro at the helm, which used to be available, but it comes
No.48 also comes from the Sturm und Drang period. Its
nickname refers to the belief formerly held that it was composed
specially for a visit from the empress, Maria Theresa. For some
reason she always seems to develop an spurious extra ‘i’ in
the name of this symphony, perhaps by false association with
the German name Mariatheresien-symphonie. As with No.45,
it’s easy to see why the symphonies of this period came to be
linked with the literature of the period. My only reservation
about Fischer’s performance of this symphony may sound irrational,
but the modern horns hit their notes just slightly too comfortably
in comparison with period-instrument performances.
It’s not that I didn’t enjoy Fischer’s account of this work,
but compare the period-instrument performance from Roy Goodman
and the Hanover Band on an inexpensive Hyperion recording (Helios
CDH55119, with Nos. 49 and 50, £6.99 or less; £5.99 for mp3
or lossless download: see March 2012/2 Download
Roundup) and the extra adventure involved in hitting the
right notes adds an extra touch of zest to the performance,
as does the inclusion of a just-audible harpsichord. Any one
of the budget-price discs from this series might make a useful
addition to the Nimbus ‘Great Symphonies’ set; it’s a series
that was never quite completed, though it contains recordings
from all periods of Haydn’s symphonic output.
If you’ve fallen for the appeal of Haydn in Sturm und Drang
mode, Nimbus offer another 2-CD set of Nos. 43, 44, 49, 52,
59 and 64 (here).
Symphony No.82 moves us on several years to Haydn’s visit to
Paris in 1785/7. Fischer’s performances of the six symphonies
from this period are available on a pair of Nimbus CDs (NI5419-20
- £16.00 post free from MusicWeb International here).
The only reservation that I have about recommending the ‘Great
Symphonies’ set is that you may well fall for the charms of
No.82 and want the whole set. If you doubt the validity of the
‘bear’ nickname for this symphony, Fischer’s growly finale makes
it seem thoroughly appropriate, even though it isn’t one of
Haydn’s own devising. Here again, only a preference for a period-instrument
performance such as Harnoncourt’s Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 3-CD
set (82876606022, all repeats observed) or Roy Goodman’s on
Hyperion (Nos. 82-4, CDH55123) would be reason to look elsewhere
– I’m happy with either approach.
The Oxford Symphony was performed at Haydn’s award
of an honorary doctorate by the university, so the title has
some validity even though in the end he failed to compose the
new work he had intended for the occasion and substituted one
that was already well known in England. Simon Rattle’s account
of this and other symphonies from the period between the Paris
visit and Haydn’s first to London has received critical praise
(Nos.88-92 and Sinfonia Concertante, EMI 3942372: Recording
of the Month - review),
but I find it too heavy by comparison with the best period performances.
You don’t need period instruments, however, to make the symphonies
of this period sound well, as Eugen Jochum demonstrated in his
BPO recordings of Nos. 88 and 98 and his later LPO set of the
‘London’ Symphonies and as Fischer demonstrates in his version
of the Oxford. This is modern-instrument Haydn without
the ‘big band’ effect that I find from Rattle and I found it
an excellent complement to Roy Goodman’s period-band on Hyperion
The nicknames of Haydn’s symphonies don’t always translate from
one language to another. In German No. 94 is known as the Drum
Stroke Symphony (mit dem Paukenschlag), so easily
confused with what is known in English as the Drum Roll
Symphony, No.103. The English nickname, Surprise, like
the German, refers to the loud stroke in the slow movement,
designed to wake the ladies. I first got to know this symphony
from Beecham’s early-1950s Columbia (CBS) performance, once
available on the Philips Classical Favourites label – no longer
available but his later 1950s remake, still in mono, is on the
first of two EMI Gemini 2-CD sets: details below. If Fischer
and his team don’t quite recapture the magic of that version
– could anyone? – I can’t think of any better recent version.
Hungarian orchestras and conductors seem to have a particularly
strong rapport with Haydn – surely it can’t just be due to the
fact that he composed for the Esterházy family whose palaces
spanned what is now the international border. There used to
be several CDs of his music on the Hungaroton White Label which,
if reissued at budget price, would still be well worth considering.
David Blum recorded several of the symphonies with the Esterházy
Orchestra for Vanguard which, like those Hungarotons, I still
listen to with pleasure. Intermittently available on CD, there’s
a very strong case for the latter especially to be reissued.
Despite their Eastern European name, the Esterházy Orchestra
are American. Still available, however, and of genuine Hungarian
provenance, are the successful recordings which Naxos has made
of Haydn symphonies with the Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia and
Good as all these are, the Austro-Hungarian Orchestra, drawn
from top-flight Austrian and Hungarian players, is best of all.
These recordings were made over a period of seven years, during
which time the orchestra had three Konzertmeister,
or leaders: Rainer Küchl, Erich Binder and Wolfgang Redik. The
quality of performance over that period is remarkably consistent.
I’m not suggesting that these are perfect – even if such a thing
were possible. I would have liked a little more generosity in
the matter of first movement repeats, for example. Without necessarily
wishing for every repeat to be observed, as Harnoncourt does
in his most recent recording of the Paris Symphonies
for Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, I do feel that there’s imbalance
in Fischer’s No.82 – Doráti’s, too, for that matter – where
the first and second movements are almost exactly the same length
and the finale is shorter than either. Goodman strikes a neat
compromise by observing the first-movement repeats but not those
in the finale (Hyperion Helios CDH55123, with Nos.83 and 84).
Just occasionally, too, I felt that some of Fischer’s ritardandi
were slightly artificial, but that’s only if one judges them
against those of Thomas Beecham, who somehow manages to make
everything he does seem thoroughly natural and Haydnesque, even
though he clung to outdated editions which he knew to be erroneous
when better texts were already available. See the review
of his EMI recordings of the London Symphonies – Bargain
of the Month – and my November 2011/1 Download Roundup.
Beulah have reissued Beecham’s Symphonies Nos. 101 and 103 –
see April 2012/1 Download Roundup.
The recordings are excellent throughout. Even the two earliest
here, of Nos. 45 and 94 from 1988, are not at all bad but the
later recordings sound even better. With short but valuable
notes this inexpensive set is a strong contender.