Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 93 in D major, Hob.I:93 (1791) [21:55]
Symphony No. 94 in G major Surprise, Hob.I.94 (1791) [23:54]
Symphony No. 103 in E flat major Drumroll, Hob.I:103 (1795) [26:52]
Dresdner Philharmonie/Günther Herbig
rec. 7-8 January 1975, 15-18 September 1975 (93-94), 5 December 1974 (103), Lukaskirche, Dresden, Germany
This CD consisting of three late Haydn symphonies is one of a series of recordings from Eterna Edition who are reissuing analogue recordings from the former East German state-owned label Eterna. There are 30 CDs available in the series and these include a number of names that were active on the Soviet side of the Iron Curtain and even today are still little known such as the conductors: Franz Konwitschny, Heinz Rögner, Otmar Suitner, Max Pommer. On the original Eterna Edition LP were Symphonies Nos 93 and 94 recorded in 1975. Included as a bonus item is the Symphony No. 103 from 1974 although we are not given any other information about its origins as a recording. A nice touch is the cover design taken from the original Eterna LP sleeve. Although I have received a brief press release from Eterna Edition I know little else of the recording as the booklet notes are entirely in German. 

The Dresdner Philharmonie is conducted by Czech/German Günther Herbig. Although founded as long ago as 1870 this orchestra is far less known internationally than their auspicious neighbours the Staatskapelle Dresden, one of the oldest orchestras in the world and steeped in tradition. Born in Czechoslovakia Herbig studied at the Franz Liszt Academy, Weimar and became a pupil of German conductor Hermann Abendroth. Between 1972/77 Herbig served as chief conductor of the Dresdner Philharmonie. It seems that Herbig, after a clash with the DDR Politburo, left East Germany and the Iron Curtain behind and emigrated to the USA. In the early to mid-1980s I remember attending a number of BBC Philharmonic concerts at Studio 3, BBC New Broadcasting House in Manchester with Herbig conducting. He had been the orchestra’s chief guest conductor. Earlier this year I attended concerts at Kendal, Cumbria and the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester with Herbig conducting the BBC Philharmonic. In both concerts the main work of the evening was the popular repertoire staple Dvořák’s Symphony No.8 in G major. I can report that the vastly experienced Herbig, conducting without a score, was in exceptionally good form. 

After the death of his employer Prince Nikolaus Esterházy and the consequent disbanding of the Esterházy court orchestra at Eisenstadt, Haydn now had the time to accept the invitation of Johann Peter Salomon, the violinist and impresario, to come over to England. Subsequently Haydn visited London in 1791/92 and later in 1794/95, the only two occasions that he left Austrian Empire territory. During his stays in London Haydn wrote his celebrated set of 12 ‘London’ Symphonies sometimes called the ‘Salomon’ Symphonies. It is generally agreed that the ‘London’ Symphonies are the pinnacle of Haydn’s accomplishments in orchestral music. It seems that the Symphonies Nos. 93-98 were composed during Haydn’s first London sojourn and Nos. 99-104 during the second stay. It was during a series of public concerts that Haydn performed the ‘London’ Symphonies in London to great public acclaim. With the composition of these ‘London’ symphonies Haydn was taking full advantage of the availability in London of an orchestra that contained a large number of high quality players superior to those he was used to at home. 

The bright analogue sound quality for Herbig is clear and well balanced wearing its age lightly with only a small amount of peak distortion. This sounds like big-band Haydn played on modern instruments with Herbig prompting alert and direct performances of an uncommon freshness with no sense of routine. He shapes everything so splendidly taking the Allegro movements briskly with resilient rhythms. The slow movements are tender and expressive. In the Symphony No. 93 I especially enjoyed Herbig’s opening movement which is defined by bold and muscular playing. The Largo is glorious with delicate chamber-like episodes. Opening with a serious introduction the first movement of the Symphony No. 94 in Herbig’s hands is vivacious and melodically appealing. The surprise drum stroke in the Andante is certainly loud enough to make a listener jump. I also enjoyed the Minuet with its stately Viennese waltz manner and beguiling lyricism. In the outstanding and decidedly melodic Drumroll the Minuet feels marvellously dignified. Herbig is at his finest in the memorable Finale, Allegro con spirito. It is marked by spirited and vivacious playing from the Dresdner Phil.
Despite the undoubted merits of this reissued recording of three of Haydn’s twelve ‘London’ Symphonies it doesn’t surpass my favourite accounts but would serve as a splendid supplement. Although not widely regarded as a Haydn conductor Karajan was highly impressive. I hold in great esteem his beautifully played and recorded 1981/82 Berlin accounts; a five disc box of the complete ‘London’ Symphonies (Deutsche Grammophon 429 658-2).
This is mightily impressive playing of these three reissued Haydn symphonies in music that runs through the blood of Günther Herbig.

Michael Cookson

Masterwork Index: Haydn London symphonies
Mightily impressive playing.