Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
CD 1
Symphony No.48 in C major (1769) [20:08]
Symphony No.44 in E minor (1772) [19:50]
Symphony No.50 in C major (1773) [18:53]
Symphony No.91 in E flat major (1788) [20:10]
CD 2
Twelve German Dances – Nos.1-6 (1792) [4:43]
Cello Concerto in D major (1783) [26:11]
Symphony No.43 in E flat major (1772) [22:11]
Symphony No.61 in D major (1776) [24:29]
Erling Blöndal Bengtsson (cello)
Danish Radio Chamber Orchestra/Mogens Wöldike
rec. 1949-56, Large Concert Hall of the Radio House, Copenhagen
DANACORD DACOCD703-04 [79:22 + 77:57]

It was an excellent idea to compile a two-disc set of Mogens Wöldike’s complete Danish recordings of the music of Haydn. The booklet proclaims ‘Haydn Symphonies’ but whilst that’s a convenient title, the two discs also contain the D major Cello Concerto and the pithy German Dances, of which we hear numbers 1-6. The symphonies are numbers 43, 44, 48, 50, 61 and 91. It’s also important to note the geographical qualifier. This Danacord double – a handy slimline, thankfully – does not include the recordings that the conductor made in Vienna where he taped a slew with the orchestra of the Vienna State Opera, that hard-worked band, at around the same time. So if you’re looking for those excellent recordings of Nos. 101 and 103 and their companions, for example, you’ll have to look elsewhere.

What we do have are the Danish Radio Chamber Orchestra performances. The band occasionally travelled phonographically as the ‘Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra’ but though the new name implies a bigger body of players, it sounds recognisably the same chamber ensemble. The recording location remained the same; the Large Concert Hall of the Radio House, Copenhagen. The recording companies, however, varied between the Haydn Society (43, 50, 61), HMV (91—made on 78s—and the Cello Concerto and Dances), and Decca (44, 48).

Wöldike (1897-1988) was a stylish, alert and lively Haydn conductor. Symphony No.48 is well-scaled with crisp brass playing, and the pomposo characterisation of the Menuetto well attended to. Accents are taut, but not overdone, and the music is always led onwards with an exemplary sense of direction. It was released on LP with No.44, a sterner and more ambiguous work. Fine horn playing and alert lyricism run through this recording, but Wöldike captures without question the provisional quality of the symphonic victory, its hesitancies and tentative nature. Neither of these recordings has been re-released since 1953.

Earlier the conductor had turned to the fledgling Haydn Society to record No. 50 which he coupled with No.43. The chamber forces here were 6-6-4-2-1. Again, these are first class performances, with flowingly taken slow movements, fine wind pointing — try the oboe in the Menuetto of No.50 — and bassoon doubling the bass line. There is also the question of the special ‘Haydn Society’ horns — instruments in high C, which were not to reappear in the series, unfortunately. Earlier still, in 1949, HMV had recorded the conductor and orchestra in Symphony No. 91 which, together with the German Dances, was issued on three 78s. Presumably because of timing limitations, repeats - unusually for the conductor - were not taken, but the phrasing is extremely personable, not least the bassoon and cellos, with motion guaranteed, unfurling a sure sense of dancing gait in the Menuetto. Symphony No.61 is engaging, once again, though at his tempo, the caesura at 5:02 in the opening movement does sound a touch laboured.

The Cello Concerto’s tempo is probably the cellist’s as it’s notably slower performance than the symphonies — indeed occasionally sluggish. Still, the obverse is the measured and loving phrasing applied by the young Erling Blöndal Bengtsson. There is real pathos in the slow movement, albeit overall the soloist is prone to retard the passagework too much.

Otherwise, this splendidly annotated set deserves a warm welcome. Transfers are uniformly good, and the performances enshrine music-making of a positive and keen-eared classicist.

Jonathan Woolf

A warm welcome. Music-making of a positive and keen-eared classicist.