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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Opera Overtures
Lo Speziale – Dramma giocoso: Sinfonia, Hob.Ia:10 (1768) [6:11]
Acide e Galatea – Festa teatrale: Sinfonia, Hob. Ia:5 (1762) [6:39]
Le Pescatrici – Dramma giocoso: Sinfonia, Hob.I:106 (1770) [4:22]
L’Infedeltà delusa – Opera : Sinfonia, Hob.Ia:1 (1773) [8:04]
Philemon und Baucis – Singspiel: Overture, Hob.Ia:8 (1773) [4:49]
Der Götterrath – Prologue to Philemon und Baucis, Hob.XXIXa:1a (1773) [4:54]
L’Incontro improvviso – Dramma giocoso: Sinfonia, Hob.Ia:6 (1775) [7:03]
Il Mondo della Luna – Opera buffa: Sinfonia, Hob.XXVIII:7 (1777) [3:53]
L’Isola disabitata – Opera (azione teatrale): Overture, Hob.Ia:13 (1779) [7:38]
La vera costanza – Dramma giocoso: Sinfonia, Hob.Ia:15 (1778) [8:29]
La fedeltà premiata – Opera: Sinfonia, Hob.Ia:11 (1781) [3:50]
Orlando Paladino – Opera: Sinfonia, Hob.Ia:16 (1782) [3:41]
Armida – Opera: Sinfonia, Hob.Ia:14 (1784) [5:48]
L’Anima del filosofo, ossia Orfeo ed Euridice – Opera: Overture, Hob.Ia:3 (1791) [4:09]
Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice/Michael Halász
rec. The House of Music, Pardubice, 17–21 January 2015
NAXOS 8.573488 [79:28]

This disc appears to have been carefully planned to fill a gap in the market. The only comparably full collection of Haydn Overtures is that by Manfred Huss and his Haydn Sinfonietta of Vienna on BIS, which was recorded in 1994 and reissued in 2009. Huss’s two-disc set has been very well received, not least by Dominy Clements for MusicWeb International. The BIS performances, however, are on original instruments, whereas the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra use modern ones; and Huss’s set only actually contains about 35 more minutes of music than this new single disc from Pardubice. His extra items consist of preludes from Haydn’s oratorios Il ritorno di Tobia, Die Schöpfung and Die Jahreszeiten, along with an Overture in D major (Hob. Ia:7) which also does duty as an alternative finale for Symphony no. 53 (L’Impériale), and the overture to the marionette opera Die Feuersbrunst, which is often regarded as inauthentic. So whilst Naxos are careful to avoid claiming that their exceptionally well-filled disc contains the ‘Complete Opera Overtures’, in practice that is what it does.

To an extent the disc affords us an overview of the development of Haydn’s many-sided genius between the ages of 30 (Acide e Galatea dates from 1762) and almost 60 (his last opera, L’Anima del filosofo, on the Orpheus theme, was finished in 1791). That said, some nine of the fourteen operas represented here are from the decade between 1773 and 1782, when presumably demand for opera at the Esterhazy court was at its zenith. So the Haydn we encounter most often is the one familiar from, say, the symphonies numbered in the 60s and 70s, or the op. 33 string quartets.

The music is simply marvellous. Most of the overtures preceded comic operas of one kind or another, so there is plenty of the kind of bustling high spirits we associate with Mozart overtures such as those to Le Nozze di Figaro or Der Schauspieldirektor; moreover the sinfonia of L’Incontro improvviso features ‘Turkish’ percussion à la Entführung aus dem Serail. In line with the convention of the ‘Italian overture’, with its tripartite structure, however, there is almost always a slower, more lyrical element; and there are also many touches of structure and orchestration that remind one of Haydn the symphonist. Indeed, if I am not mistaken, the overture to Il mondo della luna — which must be a fun work, involving as it does a character being tricked into believing he is on the moon — is identical to the first movement of Symphony no. 63 (‘La Roxelane’), and that of La Fedeltà premiata to the finale of no. 73 (‘La Chasse’). Such things happened all the time in the eighteenth century.

Every listener will have his or her favourites. I particularly relished the ‘Italian’ overture to the comic opera L’Infedeltà delusa, which, with its sparkling opening allegro, wonderfully heart-easing poco adagio and uproarious concluding presto, comes straight out of Haydn’s top-drawer. As does the very different overture to L’Isola disabitata, a more serious work with a libretto by no less a figure than Metastasio. Its opening largo vividly but very beautifully conveys the anguish of the heroine Costanza, abandoned as she has been on a desert island. It then gives way to two iterations of a storm-tossed vivace assai worthy of the most turbulent of Haydn’s ‘Sturm und Drang’ symphonies, punctuated here by a gracious, dance-like allegretto in ¾ time. If you only have 3:41 to sample the disc, you could do worse than to access the little gem that is the sinfonia to Orlando Paladino, which combines a remarkable range of emotions with a vein of lyricism that seems to anticipate early Schubert.

For all the exhilarating unfamiliarity of much of the music, this Naxos issue inspires a certain element of nostalgia. As in so many of the company’s earliest issues, we have a little-known chamber orchestra from the former Soviet bloc playing under a trusted ‘house’ conductor. The Czech Chamber Philharmonic of Pardubice proves to be fully the equal of such estimable bands as the Capella Istropolitana or the Failoni Orchestra of Budapest: they play with precision, verve and no little virtuosity, whilst sounding at times (as recorded) a little on the dry side, especially in the upper strings. The vastly experienced Michael Halász is reliability itself: timings suggest that his tempi are apt to be slightly slower than those of Manfred Huss, but he is never remotely ponderous and his interpretations have considerable style and dramatic flair. At Naxos price you really can’t go wrong: as long as you don’t absolutely insist on ‘authentic’ instruments, this issue is well worth acquiring, either instead of or (best of all) alongside the rather differently conceived collection on BIS.

Nigel Harris



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