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Johann Michael HAYDN (1737-1806)
Symphonies - Volume 1
Sinfonia in G major (Perger 16) (Symphony No. 25) [11.30]
Sinfonia in D major (Perger 21) (Symphony No. 30) [20.58]
Sinfonia in C major (Perger 19) (Symphony No. 28) [19.23]
Sinfonia in A major (Perger 15) (Symphony No. 24) [18.37]
Filip Dvořák (harpsichord)
Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice/Patrick Gallois
rec. 17-22 February 2015, The House of Music, Pardubice, Czech Republic.
NAXOS 8.573497 [70.43]

This is the first of what one hopes will be a complete set of the Michael Haydn symphonies. If so, this release is a more than auspicious start, which will give much pleasure, especially in these idiomatic performances (on modern instruments).

For all that Michael lurks in the shadow cast by his brother, recent performances – and it is welcome to have so many more, especially on CD – have made it clear that he was no minor figure, but an accomplished composer in his own right. His contemporaries had little doubt of his stature. Although his relationship with Leopold Mozart was strained, he had a close friendship with Wolfgang, who appears to have been influenced by his music, and certainly promoted it in Vienna. A common feature between the two, heard to good effect in these symphonies, is a charming gift for writing effectively for the woodwinds.

Nor should these symphonies be considered less pleasurable than those by Josef. If there is a difference, it is not in musical facility nor in ingenious orchestration. If Michael does not quite plumb the same depths, there are similarities in construction and in the unusual effects. Listen for example, to the Rondeau of the C major work (track 8) as a splendid instance of confident, even exuberant, invention. There is an interesting study to be done on the extent to which Josef influenced his brother and vice-versa. They corresponded but rarely met during the forty years of Michael’s time in Salzburg, yet there are similarities in approach. I sometimes forget which brother I am hearing, though Michael was less of a pioneer. Also, he had a strong preference for major keys, as here (only Symphony No 20, not on this disc, is in a minor key), which slightly limited his emotional range. His gift is for the exciting.

This CD will give enormous pleasure, and perhaps encourage wider performance. Gallois has the music’s measure and the orchestra plays very well. It is interesting to make comparisons with Bohdan Warchal’s set of 20 symphonies on CPO (CPO 9995912), though the D major is not included there (but it is on a recording from the same label conducted by Johannes Goritzki – CPO 9991792) . The CPO set is a joy – so is this.

My only quibble is with the annotations to the music. The notes are informative but it would be helpful to have the numbers by which the symphonies are normally known. I have inserted these on the listing above.

I look forward very much to the remainder of this series. It would be a wonderful if Naxos turned its attention to a complete set of the Masses. Josef thought Michael’s finer than his own, not without justice. From time to time a new recording appears (Hungaraton have shown commitment to the cause), but there is so much to explore.

Michael Wilkinson



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