Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 57 in D [26:15]
Symphony No. 67 in F [24:18]
Symphony No. 68 in B flat [27:56]
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra/Nicholas McGegan
rec. live 8-9 February 2014 (68) and 11-12 October 2014 (57, 67), First Congregational Church, Berkeley, California, USA

The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra is probably America’s leading period-instrument orchestra, and in collaboration with Nicholas McGegan, they’re issuing a series of Haydn symphony recordings. They’re all superb, and this one is no exception, though it covers three symphonies you may not have heard before except in a complete cycle box set.

No. 57 starts with a lengthy introduction, the hesitant nature of which contrasts to the bold headlong rush of the allegro. Here and in the ultra-fast finale, McGegan favors quite lively tempos; the last movement presents the Philharmonia Baroque players stretching to their limit in thrilling fashion.

No. 67 beefs up the horn parts, but all three of these symphonies are for small orchestra, and there are no percussion or trumpet parts anywhere. (Also absent: the harpsichord. As a matter of personal taste, I can’t express how happy I am that McGegan ruled against the harpsichord.) 67’s standout movement to me is the adagio; if you haven’t heard it, I won’t spoil the witty, innovative surprise with which the movement ends. The finale is interrupted by a graceful adagio which acts as a miniature concerto for orchestra, with solo parts for violins and a cellist, plus an oboe-bassoon duet.

Symphony No. 68 begins with no introduction at all, and by the time the oboes and horns echo the opening theme, its sunny disposition and winning originality are assured. Things reach a peak with the third movement adagio (unusually, the minuet comes second). The adagio stretches to nearly 13 minutes, almost half the total length of the symphony, and in the finale, bassoons unexpectedly steal the scene. In the final coda, many of the other instruments jump in with quick solos.

The Philharmonia Baroque is at their usual high standard, as is the whole production, with a terrific booklet and state-of-the-art recorded sound. Really, there’s no reason for Haydn lovers not to get this, and who doesn’t love Haydn?

Brian Reinhart

Previous review: Leslie Wright
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