Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphonies: No. 43 in E flat major [22:11]; No. 44 in E minor [19:50]; No. 48 in C major [20:08]; No. 50 in C major [18:53]; No. 61 in D major [24:29]; No. 91 in E flat major [20:10]; Cello Concerto in D major [26:11]; 12 German Dances – Nos. 1-6 [4:43]
Erling Blöndal Bengtsson (cello)
Danish Radio Chamber (Symphony) Orchestra/Mogens Wöldike
rec. Large Concert Hall of Danish Radio, Copenhagen, 1949-1956
DANACORD DACOCD 703/704 [79:01 + 77:34]

Mogens Wöldike was a familiar name to Haydn enthusiasts in the 1950s and 1960s but may well not be known to younger listeners. For them and for those who remember these discs on their original issue this is a most welcome release, revealing a conductor and orchestra with a clear understanding of Haydn’s idiom and characteristics.

Wöldike (1897-1988) started his career as an organist and choirmaster and was the founder of the Copenhagen Boys Choir. After wartime exile in Sweden - because of his Jewish wife - he returned to Denmark and was appointed as conductor of the newly formed Danish Radio Chamber Orchestra. The recordings on these discs were made variously for HMV, Decca and the Haydn Society. The earliest, and arguably the best, was made in 1949 for HMV of the Symphony No. 91 with the German Dances as a fill-up. This is a performance with real character, making the most of Haydn’s wonderfully individual and inventive writing. Interestingly although the later Haydn Society recordings made use of the revised editions of the texts being produced by H.C. Robbins Landon that of Symphony No. 91 appears to have used an earlier text, varying in several respects from that usually used today. The Haydn Society recordings here – Nos. 43, 50 and 61 – were of works at that date seldom if ever played. The version of No. 50, which Landon thought had never been played since the eighteenth century, makes use of high horns especially produced for the Haydn Society. Although in No. 48 the composer also expected such instruments they are here replaced with trumpets. The Icelandic soloist in the Cello Concerto - at that time the only one by the composer that was known - adopts a similarly understated approach to that of the conductor, although there can be no doubts about his virtuosity or musicianship.

What becomes rapidly clear in listening to this set is the conductor’s self-effacing devotion to the composer. These performances may seem at times somewhat dour compared with modern performers, and indeed No. 44 in particular does lack something of the single-minded obsessiveness that is surely its main characteristic. Nonetheless my main reaction to listening to these discs is wonder at Haydn’s extraordinary and varied invention. It is a great tribute to the performers that they focus attention so much on the music rather than drawing it to any quirks or excesses in their performance.

The recordings inevitably sound their age to some degree, but there is a clarity and immediacy about these transfers by Claus Byrith that puts some modern recordings to shame. There are no less than four lengthy and interesting essays (in English only) in the booklet dealing with the conductor and his various recordings and with the soloist. It is good to be able to enjoy again recordings of such real but self-effacing musicianship in pioneering versions of works which even now are not heard in concert as often as they deserve. I hope that this will lead to more of the conductor’s recordings being reissued, including The Creation and the St Matthew Passion, both of which were recorded in Vienna.

John Sheppard

Self-effacing devotion to the composer in recordings of clarity and immediacy.