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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732–1809)
Haydn 2032 Volume 3: Solo e pensoso
Symphony No.42 in D, Hob. I:42 [22:32]
L’isola Disabitata, Overture, Hob. XXVIII:9 [7:00]
Symphony No.64 in A, Hob. I:64 Tempora Mutantur [18:53]
‘Solo e Pensoso’, Aria, Hob. XIVb:20 [6:54]
Symphony No.4 in D, Hob. I:4 [13:53]
Francesca Aspromonte (soprano)
Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini
rec. Teldex Studio Berlin, 18-22 November 2015. DDD.
Text and translation of aria included.
ALPHA 672 [68:57]

Reviewed from 16-bit lossless download supplied by Outhere music and from 24-bit download from eclassical.com with pdf booklet.

This is the third and latest release in the Haydn 2032 series, a joint enterprise between Alpha and the Joseph Haydn Stiftung Foundation of Basel to record all 107 symphonies by the time of the tercentennial in 2032. I can fairly confidently predict that I shan’t be around then, but I have enjoyed the other releases in this series and look forward to hearing as many of the forthcoming as possible. Universal have beaten them with their own complete set of period performances, but they had a head start: all they had to do was to put together existing recordings directed by Christopher Hogwood and Frans Brüggen and add Nos. 78-81 from Ottavio Dantone to make their 36-CD set (Decca 4789604, about Ł80).

The virtues of the Hogwood and Brüggen sets are well known and I reviewed the Dantone contributions, which include the first-ever period instrument versions of Nos. 79 and 81, in Download News 2016/5 alongside performances directed by Roy Goodman on Hyperion Helios.

Giovannni Antonini began his survey with Nos. 1, 39 and 49 on Alpha 670. Each of the volumes is named after what were known as the affects – the emotions – in the eighteenth century: Volume 1 is labelled La Passione. That contains music that needs to be pushed hard and I was not surprised to find that Antonini obliges – DL News 2014/13.

Volume 2, Il Filosofo, offers Haydn in philosophical mood in Nos. 22, 46 and 47 (Alpha 671). Reviewing this among other Outhere group releases, I did wonder if the performances were not just a little too refined, but they are well suited to the philosophical theme – review. I’m surprised to see that some have thought these performances a little over-heated.

The new recording has the title Solo e pensoso, alone and thoughtful, which we tend to think of as a peculiarly Romantic topic – Caspar David Friedrich’s iconic image of a man alone on the mountain top – but actually dates back to the early renaissance poet Petrarch, whose Sonnet XXXV provides the text for the aria Solo e pensoso i piů deserti campi on track 20. The three symphonies are chosen because Antonini finds their slow movements redolent of the same theme, ‘the loneliest fields’. The overture to the opera L’isola disabitata, the Desert Island, fits the theme too for obvious reasons.

As with Volume 2, Antonini’s reputation for fiery performances in the baroque repertoire can largely be set aside. The fast movements are taken at a sprightly pace but never over-driven. The outer movements of Symphony No.4 are taken at tempi not significantly faster than those adopted by Roy Goodman on Hyperion Helios CDH55111 (Symphonies 1-5, from hyperion-records.co.uk). As befits his theory regarding slow movements, however, Antonini takes an extra half minute for the andante second movement.

Whether that’s the right pace is another matter, though Antonini has precedent in his favour: Max Goberman, still well worth listening to, on what would have been the first complete set if he had lived to complete his recordings with the Vienna SOO, takes this movement at a very similar pace but without anything like the emotional content which Antonini confers (Sony, download only). Even these earliest Haydn symphonies are far from conventional early-classical works and the extra, proto-Romantic emotional power which Antonini finds in the second movement fits the spirit of the music. Though I’m just not convinced that the tempo is andante, Christopher Hogwood also adopts the same tempo and evokes almost as much a sense of loneliness. If you don’t fancy investing in the new bumper box, Hogwood’s recordings of Nos. 1, 2, 4, 5, 10, 11, 18, 27, 32, 37 and ‘107’ remain available to stream or to download for around Ł16.50.

Roy Goodman and the Hanover Band on Hyperion adopt a true andante yet still manage to make this movement sound magical. Antal Doráti on his ground-breaking Decca complete set with the Philharmonia Hungarica finds a tempo between those of Goodman on the one hand and Antonini, Goberman and Hogwood. Incidentally, you’ll find a string of responses on the MusicWeb Message Board concerning Maerzendorfer’s, rather than Doráti’s claim to be the first to record the Haydn symphonies complete. I’ll merely add that while not tempted to buy the whole Doráti set, I shall not be throwing out the individual single-, 2- and 4-CD releases from the series which I own. Goberman’s finale sounds much too deliberate by comparison with Antonini, Hogwood and Goodman.

For No.42 I’ve chosen to compare the period performance by Goodman and the Hanover Band again (CDH55117 – from hyperion-records.co.uk) and Thomas Fey with the Heidelberg Orchestra, Volume 19 of his series for the Hänssler label (Nos. 26, 27 and 42, CD98.005 – Download News 2013/7). Fey is never a safe pair of hands in Haydn but, with small reservations, I enjoyed this album. Not only does he share Antonini’s preference for emphasis on the slow movements, in this case marked andantino e cantabile, he wrings every jot of emotion out of the music, taking much longer than Goodman, who is himself slower than Antonini.

Fey’s very slow tempo, especially with the observance of repeats, now sounds to me almost elephantine, neither andantino, though I know that in the 18th century that meant significantly slower than andante, nor cantabile, especially after an opening movement where he gives due weight to the maestoso marking. For once Fey comes dangerously close to the ‘antiquated traditions’ that he criticises.

For all my general allegiance to Roy Goodman’s Haydn recordings, not least for his generally non-intrusive use of the harpsichord, he makes the opening movement of No.42 a little too matter-of-fact by comparison with Fey. The harpsichord is quite prominent in the second movement – I mention that because I know that some dislike it, though there’s a strong case for retaining it: why else would Haydn give it a joke part in the finale of Symphony No.98 if he were not still employing it many years after this symphony? Some slight tendency to phrase for the moment rather than for the whole movement apart, Goodman’s account of the second movement sounds fine and the remaining two movements also go well.

Antonini also takes the first movement quickly and a trifle too lightly by contrast with Fey. He also moves the second movement along quite smartly – perhaps more the modern idea of andantino as only slightly slower than andante rather than the 18th -century meaning. He does so, however without missing the affective power of the music and achieves a more cantabile line than Fey or Goodman.

Antonini’s pace for the third movement looks a trifle fast – more allegro than allegretto and faster than Fey or Goodman – but it works well, as does the finale, where there is general agreement among the three recordings.

For another very fine period performance of No.42, see the link below to Bruno Weil’s Sony recording on period instruments of Nos. 41-43, available to download at a very attractive price. In No.42 the opening movement is suitably maestoso without any loss of energy and though the second movement is slightly slower than Antonioni’s, the playing is beautifully cantabile. If Antonini, as on the earlier albums in this series, is a little inclined to rush the minuet and trio, Weil’s more measured tempo certainly doesn’t drag.

There’s no Goodman recording of No.64 – sadly, the series was never completed – but there are period performances by both Christopher Hogwood (Decca) with the AAM and Bruno Weil with Tafelmusik (Sony Vivarte, download only but particularly good value at Ł4.35 in CD quality from classicsonline.com). Bruno Weil pretty well ticks all the right boxes for me in all three symphonies – Nos. 50, 64 and 65 – and at such little expense that you might well consider obtaining the download whatever else you choose. For those who dislike the harpsichord he eschews its use.

It’s not clear why No.64 has the title Tempora mutantur [et nos mutamur in illis], ‘the times are changing and we change with them’, or even if Haydn awarded it – mostly he was not responsible for the titles which some of his symphonies have accrued – but it appears on the wrapper of a set of parts which clearly came from Esterháza. Title or no, this work from the end of his ‘Sturm und Drang’ period lends itself to a thoughtful performance, especially of the largo second movement, which Antonini takes at a slightly faster pace than Weil and considerably faster than Hogwood or Adám Fischer in his modern-instrument performance with the Austro-Hungarian Orchestra (Nimbus – see below). For all that, neither Weil nor Antonini underplays the emotional content of the movement; I’m very happy with both – if anything, Antonini sounds slightly the weightier.

Those averse to period instruments – though there’s really nothing to dislike from Antonini, Weil or Goodman – will be well served by that performance of No.64 from the Austro-Hungarian Orchestra and Adam Fischer on Nimbus. It’s available on an inexpensive 2-CD set of selected symphonies from theSturm und Drang period: Nos. 43, 44, 49, 52, 59 and 64 (NI7072, Ł12 post-free from MusicWeb-International or download in lossless sound for Ł7.99 from Qobuz, without booklet).

The overture to L’isola disabitata and the aria Solo e pensoso, well sung by Francesca Aspromonte – a young singer from whom I hope to hear more – are added incentives to consider this latest addition to the Haydn 2032 series. There are not many recordings of the aria, though fans of Arleen Auger will wish to have her recording as part of a programme of Haydn vocal works, with the Handel and Haydn Orchestra and Christopher Hogwood (Decca Eloquence 4762519 – review).

The Alpha recording is very good. Having obtained the press preview in mp3 format at a miserly 192kb/s, I emailed the Outhere group. I’ve mentioned this problem before of an inadequate mp3 download making it impossible to judge the quality of the finished CD. Of late the previews have at least been around 250kb/s, so 192 was a seriously retrograde step. Very generously I was provided with a commercial lossless download of this and another recent release and an explanation that their website cannot cope with the size of lossless wav files. I do hope, however, that we shall at least have 256kb/s in future and preferably the full 320kb/s. The 24-bit download subsequently obtained from eclassical.com is even better.

The booklet is informative and idiomatically translated. I wonder, however, at the relevance of some of the photographs to the theme of solitariness. Even the person who made the footprints in the sand – shades of Robinson Crusoe – appears to have had a dog with him.

Overall it’s a matter of swings and roundabouts which version(s) you choose of these three symphonies. No one recording has it all and no-one else combines them in this way, so you would need to purchase at least three CDs to replicate the coupling, but you should still be able to find the two Hyperion Helios discs for around Ł6.50 each, though the series has gone from budget- to full-price; to download them would cost Ł7.99 each but Hyperion allow you to select individual symphonies or even movements if you so wish.

The COL download of the Weil recording is an absolute bargain: you may even wish also to download his recordings of Nos. 41-43, 44, 51 and  52, 45-47, 82-84 and 88-90 while you’re about it. Make sure to choose the correct versions: for some arcane reason some of these are also priced at an uncompetitive Ł9.63.

If you went for the first two volumes of Haydn 2032, the same virtues and minor shortcomings are in evidence again. Those coming fresh to these recordings will find playing of a very high standard of precision and tempi that mostly fit the music very well, with a little less tendency than before to push too fast, all very well recorded and documented. But do consider the period performance alternatives, especially from Weil and Goodman.

Brian Wilson



 

 




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