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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphonies
The Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood
rec. 1983-1995
DECCA L’OISEAU-LYRE 480 6900 [32 CDs: c. 43:00:00]

This set is like welcoming back some long lost friends. I remember being blown away by the first LP release in 1984 of the Symphonies Nos. 104 and 100 (411 833-1 OH), and just how different it was from those recordings I was brought up on, Beecham and Dorati. This rapidly became one of my favourite LPs and as soon as the recordings of symphonies Nos. 94 and 96 (414 330-1 OH) was released the following year, I snapped it up. It soon found its way on to my favourites list too. It was not long after this that it was announced that Christopher Hogwood and The Academy of Ancient Music were to embark on the mammoth task of recording all the symphonies of Haydn to be released on the new fangled silver disc; I couldn’t wait. Sadly I had only managed to buy two of the sets when it was announced that Decca was to stop the series, leaving many a lover of Haydn’s music, myself included, angry at the prospect of an incomplete set, especially one which had gone so far. Having now listened to all these discs a couple of times, and some quite a bit more, it just brings home what a great shame it was that this cycle was left incomplete — a real opportunity missed.

Yes, these discs had their detractors when they were released, largely down to the small size of the orchestra that Hogwood employed, especially in the earlier symphonies, when on occasion he used one instrument per part. However, surely this was a false argument. I mean, why have an orchestra playing on historically accurate instruments if it is not going to conform to the combination of the number of performers and instrumentation that Haydn had at his disposal, Hogwood’s aim, with the guidance of the American musicologist, Professor James Webster, was not only to produce a series of recordings which were historically informed, but also a series that was historically accurate. As a result the music can sometimes sound as if it is being performed by a chamber orchestra. However, there is a greater degree of clarity in the recording which leads to a more nuanced performance than one mioght hear from say Dorati on Decca or Fischer on Nimbus (Brilliant). Those two conductors' versions can on occasion sound a bit muffled and even muddy in comparison to Hogwood’s fresh-sounding results.

We must discuss here the question of tempi. It must be a factor in period performance sensibility to opt for the slower, and in some cases much slower tempos, especially in the slow movements. Let's take the Symphony No. 22 in E flat Major known as The Philosopher as an example. For the opening Adagio Hogwood takes 10 minutes, which is one of the slowest versions on disc. In fact I only know of one slower version and that is another period performance by The Hanover Band and Roy Goodman (CDH55116). Compare this with the likes of Esa-Pekka Salonen who takes a mere 5:34 (SMK 45972), whilst Rattle ends up occupying the middle ground, taking 7:13 in his recording with the CBSO (CDC 5 55509 2). Here, and it is one of my favourite of Haydn’s earlier symphonies, Hogwood, and for that matter Goodman, achieve something amazing. They adopt a tempo nearly twice as slow as some and they do so without the music sounding ponderous or dull. On the contrary this allows the music time to breath and develop. We hear a real slow movement which shows the composer as a master of the form. Hogwood’s The Philosopher has always been my preferred version, and it is only in a set like this that you can reference the performance with other slower movements.

As Haydn’s orchestra grew, so the instrumentation swelled and became more elaborate too, culminating in the forces brought together by Salomon for the composer’s visit to England. The last two discs of this set present Haydn and an orchestra, the size of which he could only imagine having at Esterházy. The sound in the recordings of symphonies 94, 96, 100 and 104 is much richer and more developed. Just imagine what he would have achieved if he had had an orchestra of this size throughout his composing career. I am not sure whether the recordings of these four symphonies would have been included in the set as a whole. I remember that there were discussions around the time that Decca stopped the project as to whether these symphonies were to be re-recorded for the complete set. Either way, these recordings are excellent and gave the performance of Haydn symphonies the shot in the arm that was needed. I well remember seeing performances in the 1970s and 1980s that employed a full large modern orchestra. Whilst the last few times I have heard Haydn performed, and usually by the same orchestras, the orchestra has been reduced to proportions that Haydn would have been more familiar with — certainly in the case of the ‘London Symphonies’.

The playing throughout these discs is excellent. The Academy of Ancient Music was made up of some of the finest period performers of the day. This shows in the end results, in which performance results match scholarship. A lot of these performers were and are soloists in their own right so it is a real shame that the documentation included in this set does not honour the part that they played by naming them. In fact that is the main drawback of this whole set. Apart from the fact that it is incomplete, the original sets were blessed with the kind of booklets of which we as listeners now dream. They were scholarly, informative and placed the music in its historical context. Here we get four pages which just is not enough. It falls far too short of doing this recording achievement the service it deserves. Decca have the original booklet notes so why are they not made available? Even if they were only accessible as a download from the Decca website that would have been a great improvement. The other draw-back regards the recording of symphonies 76 and 77. Where are they? They were recorded before Decca pulled the plug, as part of the series to be included in the next set. Apart from an appearance as a cover disc on May 2005 issue of the BBC Music Magazine, they have never been made available. Surely they could have been included in this fine set.

The recorded sound is excellent with most of the symphonies being recorded in the Walthamstow Assembly Hall in a dry acoustic which suites the music well. This is a set to savour, one that will give hours of enjoyment, yet will also bring sadness about just what might have been: a real tribute to the memory of Christopher Hogwood. For me it ranks higher than the complete sets by Dorati or Fischer as it does more to change our perception of what Haydn would have heard.

Stuart Sillitoe

Track-List
CD 1 [54:00]
Symphony No. 1 in D Major [13:18]
Symphony No. 2 in C Major [8:16]
Symphony No. 4 in D Major [14:24]
Symphony No. 5 in A Major [17:33]
CD 2 [53:12]
Symphony No. 10 in D Major [15:59]
Symphony No. 11 in E flat Major [21:48]
Symphony No. 18 in G Major [14:49]
CD 3 [65:18]
Symphony No. 27 in G Major [14:26]
Symphony No. 32 in C Major [19:24]
Symphony No. 37 in C Major [16:23]
Symphony No. 107 in B flat Major (Partita) [14:07]
CD 4 [54:21]
Symphony No. 3 in G Major [15:37]
Symphony No. 14 in A Major [20:18]
Symphony No. 15 in D Major [20:08]
CD 5 [65:34]
Symphony No. 17 in F Major [19:46]
Symphony No. 19 in C Major [13:13]
Symphony No. 20 in C Major [18:09]
Symphony No. 25 in C Major [13:43]
CD 6 [57:31]
Symphony No. 33 in C Major [22:19]
Symphony No. 36 in E flat Major [20:30]
Symphony No. 108 in B flat Major [14:26]
CD 7 [75:57]
Symphony No. 6 in D Major ‘Le martin’ [23:44]
Symphony No. 7 in C Major ‘Le midi’ [25:00]
Symphony No. 8 in G Major ‘Le soir’ [28:42]
CD 8 [52:27]
Symphony No. 9 in C Major [11:56]
Symphony No. 12 in E Major [17:15]
Symphony No. 13 in D Major [18:41]
CD 9 [60:14]
Symphony No. 16 in B flat Major [13:33]
Symphony No. 40 in F Major [20:35]
Symphony No. 72 in D Major [25:30]
CD 10 [57:55]
Symphony No. 21 in A Major [16:21]
Symphony No. 22 in E flat Major ‘The Philosopher’ [20:36]
Symphony No. 23 in G Major [20:31]
CD 11 [62:36]
Symphony No. 24 in D Major [18:30]
Symphony No. 28 in A Major [21:53]
Symphony No. 29 in E Major [21:57]
CD 12 [69:39]
Symphony No. 30 in C Major ‘Alleluja’ [13:26]
Symphony No. 31 in D Major ‘Hornsignal’ [32:53]
Symphony No. 34 in D minor [24:00]
CD 13 [65:20]
Symphony No. 35 in B flat Major [24:40]
Symphony No. 38 in C Major [19:01]
Symphony No. 39 in G minor [20:13]
CD 14 [45:15]
Symphony No. 41 in C Major [23:43]
Symphony No. 58 in F Major [20:30]
CD 15 [45:41]
Symphony No. 59 in A Major ‘Feuersymphonie’ [21:33]
Feuersymphonie 65 in A Major [23:34]
CD 16 [48:49]
Symphony No. 26 in D minor ‘Lamentatione’ [18:02]
Symphony No. 42 in D Major [30:32]
CD 17[60:10]
Symphony No. 43 in E flat Major ‘Merkur – Mercury’ [32:05]
Symphony No. 44 in E minor ‘Trauersinfonie – Mourning’ [27:46]
CD 18 [59:16]
Symphony No. 48 in C Major ‘Maria Theresia’ [32:06]
Symphony No. 49 in F minor ‘Le passione’ [25:51]
CD 19 [57:06]
Symphony No. 45 in F sharp minor ‘Abschiedssinfonie – Farewell’ [31:53]
Symphony No. 46 in B major [25:13]
CD 20 [52:21]
Symphony No. 47 in G Major [23:53]
Symphony No. 51 in B flat Major [28:28]
CD 21 [51:19]
Symphony No. 52 in C minor [28:37]
Symphony No. 64 in A Major ‘Tempora mutantur’ [20:42]
CD 22 [56:59]
Symphony No. 50 in C Major [18:21]
Symphony No. 54 in G Major (1st version) [39:18]
CD 23 [61:19]
Symphony No. 55 in E flat Major ‘Der Schulmeister – The Schoolmaster’ [29:56]
Symphony No. 56 in C Major [35:05]
CD 24 [60:34]
Symphony No. 57 in D Major [30:17]
Symphony No. 60 in C Major ‘Il distratto’ [29:56]
CD 25 [65:45]
Symphony No. 53 in D Major ‘L ‘Imperiale’ (Version A) [25:05]
Symphony No. 53 Finale (Version B) [4:03]
Symphony No. 54 in G Major (2nd version) [26:34]
CD 26 [78:55]
Symphony No. 61 in D Major [24:15]
Symphony No. 66 in B flat Major [28:13]
Symphony No. 69 in C Major ‘Laudon’ [25:23]
CD 27 [58:28]
Symphony No. 67 in F Major [28:25]
Symphony No. 68 in B flat Major [30:06]
CD 28 [66:31]
Symphony No. 62 in D Major [24:58]
Symphony No. 63 in C Major ‘La Roxelane’ 22:03]
Symphony No. 70 in D Major [19:26]
CD 29 [55:41]
Symphony No. 71 in B flat Major [31:51]
Symphony No. 73 in D Major ‘La Chasse – The Chase’ [23:47]
CD 30 [47:40]
Symphony No. 74 in E flat Major [23:55]
Symphony No. 75 in D Major [23:42]
CD 31 [49:05]
Symphony No. 96 in D Major ‘Miracle’ [24:54]
Symphony No. 94 in G Major ‘Surprise’ [24:11]
CD 32 [50:54]
Symphony No. 104 in D Major ‘London’ [26:53]
Symphony No. 100 in G Major ‘Military’ [24:01]
Kingsway Hall, London, September, November 1983 (100, 104); St Barnabas Church, London, August 1984 (94; 96); Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, November 1988, April 1989 (21-24, 28-31, 34), May 1989 (35), June 1989 (26, 38, 59), November 1989 (39-41), April 1990 (12, 13, 58, 65), October 1990 (6-8), March 1991 (9, 16, 40, 72), June 1991 (3, 15, 17, 19, 20, 25), January 1992 (4, 33, 36, 108), June, July 1992 ( 44, 48, 49), November 1992 (42, 43), March, June, July 1993 (45, 46, 50, 54-57, 60), March 1994 (66, 67), June 1994 (53, 61), September 1994 (68, 69), November 1994 (54), March 1995 (73, 75), September 1995 (70, 71, 74); Henry Wood Hall, London, September 1995 (62, 63).




 




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