Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No.31  in D (Horn Signal) [32:09]
Symphony No.70 in D [18:09]
Symphony No.101  in D (Clock) [26:50]
Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Robin Ticciati
rec. Usher Hall, Edinburgh, February 2015. DDD/DSD
LINN CKD500 SACD [77:08]

I have already sung the praises of this recording on the basis of hearing the 24-bit download from Hyperion – Download News 2015/8 – and Simon Thompson has made it a Recording of the Month.  I’m pleased to be able to have a little more space to expand on my short review, but the additional existence of ST’s review means that I need not expatiate at great length.

We may no longer think of Haydn as the Father of the Symphony but he was the first great exponent of the form and there’s nary a dud in all his output of 104+ symphonies.  Robin Ticciati and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra bring us three selected works in D from this vast output, all of them well worth hearing and, since they mark several stages in his development, they form a first-class introduction to his symphonic output. 

No.31, nicknamed Horn Signal for good reasons, belongs to the transition from his early style to his middle Sturm und Drang period, though it’s not the fieriest example of the ‘storm and stress’ genre.  My comparison is with an old (ADD) Hungaroton recording which I bought long ago when the White Label was competing with Naxos in the Woolworths browsers, at £3.99 per CD: HRC1023: Symphony No.31 in D [24:43] and Symphony No.73 in D (La Chasse) [20:45].  The Hungarian Chamber Orchestra is conducted by Vilmos Tátrai in forthright performances [45:28].  It’s no longer available on CD but can be downloaded for not much more than that price of £3.99 at $8.18 from (mp3 and lossless) or it can be streamed from Naxos Music Library.  At £7.99 the download from is more expensive, but subscribers will also find it there to stream in lossless sound.

The Hungaroton remains an enjoyable listen but the Linn recording benefits from 24-bit sound, from the fact that Ticciati observes the repeats and from a slightly faster tempo in the minuet third movement.

No.70 was composed for the rebuilding of the burned-down Esterháza Opera House.  Here again there’s an inexpensive and worthwhile Hungarian performance, from the Esterházy Sinfonia and Béla Drahos (Naxos 8.555708, with Symphonies 71 and 73) and period-instrument fans are very well served by Roy Goodman and the Hanover Band in bright and fresh performances (Hyperion CDH55120, with 71 and 72).  Snap up the Hyperion if you can still find it at around £6.50 – the whole Helios series has reverted to full price but remains available to download from in mp3 or lossless sound, with pdf booklet, for £7.99.

Given that my favourite version of No.70, from the Esterházy Orchestra conducted by David Blum is no longer available, the new Ticciati recording effectively becomes my benchmark for this work on modern instruments.  Should you happen to find a copy of the Blum for a reasonable price, snap it up (Vanguard 08.90161-71, with Nos. 39, 73 and 75).

No.101, the Clock, belongs to the second set of the symphonies composed for Salomon, usually known as the London symphonies.  Though I like the period-instrument performance from the Hanover Band (Hyperion CDH55127, with No.102 and Overture Windsor Castle), it’s Thomas Beecham’s 1960 recording with the RPO that’s my benchmark for this work.  The separate release of Nos. 101and 103 on Classics for Pleasure (7625792) and the two 2-CD budget sets of Beecham’s London Symphonies have both been deleted but the 6-CD box of the symphonies and The Seasons remains available for around £20 (Warner 9846032 – review).  Beecham did some very naughty things to Haydn, eschewing the accurate Robbins Landon editions in favour of older, more inaccurate texts and omitting first-movement repeats, but the result is irresistible.  Much to Ticciati’s credit, though I played the Beecham immediately afterwards, the new performance is by no means put in the shade.

The SCO play as well as they did for Sir Charles Mackerras, whose two 2-CD sets of the late Mozart symphonies (CKD350 – review – and CKD308: Recording of the Month – review) have become modern classics of the recorded repertoire, and for Elizabeth Watts and Christian Baldini on their recent album of Mozart arias – Recording of the Month: CKD460 –  review – while Robin Ticciati directs with a sure sense of the music. 

Only those insisting on period instruments need look elsewhere, perhaps to Goodman in No.70 and No.101, but even they should not be disappointed.  Goodman never recorded No.31 because his series was sadly cancelled little more than half-way through.

The new recording, made as recently as February 2015, is of Linn’s usual high standard, as is the booklet, which is also included with the download: I didn’t know, for example, that Eisenstadt, the home of Haydn’s employers, also had a Hungarian name, Kismarton.  As anticipated, I could detect no significant difference between the 24/96 download and the HD stereo layer of the SACD but the disc, at around £12, is less expensive than the download.

Though equally recommendable to those with plenty of Haydn symphonies in their library, this is as good a first or early step in discovering them as any single recording that I know.  The next stop for those who make it such should be a complete set of the London symphonies, Nos. 93-104: of those listed in MWI Recommends my own favourites are Beecham (see above), Colin Davis (Philips, two 2-CD sets) and Jochum (DG, download only, with Nos.88 and 91 and two versions of No.98). 

Brian Wilson

Previous review: Simon Thompson and Michael Cookson

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