Haydn 2032 Volume 4 - Il Distratto
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No.60 in C (Il distratto) (1774/5) [26:01]
Symphony No.70 in D (1779) [17:24]
Symphony No.12 in E (1763) [17:08]
Domenico CIMAROSA (1749-1801)
Il maestro di cappella (Critical edition and orchestration by Marco Brolli) [19:19]
Riccardo Novaro (baritone)
Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini
rec. Teldex Studio, Berlin, 13-17 March 2016. DDD.
Cimarosa text and translation included.
ALPHA674 [79:55]

Reviewed as press preview (mp3) and as 24/96 download with pdf booklet from eclassical.com. Also available on vinyl as Alpha 675 (2 LPs).

The format for this fourth volume remains as before: Haydn symphonies from different periods in his career, one of which has a name, plus, usually, music by a near-contemporary:

Volume 1: Symphonies Nos. 39, 49 (La Passione) and 1 with Gluck Don Juan: Alpha 670 – DL News 2013/14

Volume 2: Symphonies Nos. 46, 22 (The Philosopher) and 47 with W F Bach Sinfonia in F: Alpha 671 – review

Volume 3: Symphonies Nos. 4, 42 and 64 (Tempora Mutantur) with Overture L’Isola Disabitata and aria Solo e pensoso: Alpha 672 – review

The virtues which attracted me to the earlier releases are in evidence here, too: stylish performances which combine elegance where needed with power and intensity where called for without exaggeration. The period-instrument Il Giardino Armonico and their director Giovanni Antonini, both more usually associated with music from an earlier period, especially Vivaldi, prove themselves able interpreters of Haydn. Their often spiky vigour in Vivaldi has sometimes been criticised, though not by me: I especially like their way of dealing with some of that composer’s quirkier works, such as those contained in an album entitled Il Proteo (Warner/Teldec mid-price 9029593160).

Some reviewers have found elements of that over-vigorous manner in their earlier Haydn offerings but I am not among them: instead I find the whole series close to my ideal of Haydn playing. As it progresses it’s easy to see how Antonini and his team temper the wind to the shorn lamb: vigorous in the Sturm und Drang symphonies on Volume 1, perhaps a little too refined at times in Volume 2.

My benchmarks for No.60 and No.70 come from David Blum with the Esterházy Orchestra, long deceased on CD, I fear, but once available on Vanguard and still available to download or stream. They really should be more readily available: 7digital.com offer them as part of a 5-hour set containing Blum’s Nos. 60, 70, 81, 90, 91, 39 and 73 together with some less distinguished performances.

The Blum recordings alone are worth the modest price of that set. I should warn, however, that several repeats are omitted. I thought at first that this might have been done in order to fit four symphonies on one CD but the inconsistency was noted when the original LPs were released. The second movement of No.60 is a case in point, though not that of No.70.

Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s recording of No.60, aptly coupled with No.45, is also now download only, albeit on offer very inexpensively. The period instruments of his Concentus Musicus Wien, early pioneers in the historic style, now sound a little raucous by comparison with the new recording. Antonini’s account of the slow movement sounds more like the marked andante than Harnoncourt’s or, indeed, that of the Haydn Sinfonietta Wien and Manfred Huss on an otherwise very enjoyable recording (BIS-SACD-1815, with No.12 and No.50 – reviewed as download from eclassical.com).

The short Symphony No.12 is also believed to have had theatrical connections, which is how it qualifies for inclusion on the BIS album of Three Theatrical Symphonies. The three movements seem to have originated as entr’actes for a performance of Acide, a work which exists only in part but has been recorded by Huss and his team for BIS (BIS-SACD-1812 – review).

In the right hands even these early symphonies such as this are well worth hearing and Antonini makes a strong case for it. Both he and Huss take the second movement fairly fast for an adagio but both make it work well at their pace. There is a strong case, however, for the more deliberate tempo adopted by Roy Goodman without making too much of a meal of it. That comes on one of the recordings which he made with the period-instrument Hanover Band for a sadly incomplete Hyperion series. Symphonies Nos. 9-12 come on Helios CDH55113, normally available on CD at mid price but direct from hyperion-records.co.uk as I write on disc or as a download (mp3 or lossless) with pdf booklet for £5.

There’s no Goodman recording of No.60 but No.70 is available with 71 and 72 on CDH55120, again on offer on CD or download as I write for just £5. That’s my benchmark for period-instrument performances alongside Robin Ticciati’s recording with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (Linn CKD500, with Nos. 31 and 101), as compared in my review with links to other MusicWeb reviews.

Goodman and Ticciati offer marginally more of the brio asked for in the first movement than Antonini but there’s plenty of spring in the Alpha recording. As before Antonini’s second movement andante is a trifle faster than his rivals without sounding rushed but I marginally prefer Goodman’s and Ticciati’s slightly more deliberate pace. Blum, for once with all repeats observed, makes an even slower tempo work very well. In the third movement the boot is on the other foot, with an attractively sprightly menuet from Antonini.

I might have preferred another Haydn work to the Cimarosa but it receives a good performance and there are not too many rival recordings.

Don’t be put off by the silly photograph on the cover of a man with a table on his head, presumably intended to represent il distratto. The notes are, effectively, useless, with no attempt to analyse any of the individual works, merely platitudes repeated from earlier volumes about the ‘Haydn 2032’ project in three languages. The space taken up with meaningless photographs could have been better employed. The budget-price Hyperion booklets are much more informative than this full-price offering.

We are not even told why Symphony No.60 obtained the title Il distratto (the distracted man). In fact it started life as incidental music for a revival of a comedy entitled Le Distrait. It contains one of Haydn’s famous jokes, analogous to all the musicians leaving the stage one by one in the Farewell Symphony or the loud crash in the Surprise Symphony. The finale has barely got under-way when it comes to a halt and the musicians tune up again.

Nor are we told about the probable link of No.12 to Acide, that No.70 was composed for the re-opening of the burned Esterháza opera house, or that the strange subtitle of the slow movement of No.70, specie d’un canone in contrapunto doppio means that it’s a two-part canon in which the two parts are capable of being inverted. The Hyperion and Linn booklets, especially the latter, offer clear explanations of what this means.

The recording is good, even as heard in the inferior mp3 press preview, and excellent in 24-bit format. There’s a problem with track 2 of the eclassical.com download – it’s cut short at 1:10 – but that has been reported and will, I am sure, be put right. The Hyperion recordings mentioned still sound very well, though in 16-bit only, and the Linn and BIS, both available in 24-bit or on SACD, are very good. At $21.53 for 24-bit the Alpha is considerably more expensive than the BIS from the same source and UK£ purchasers will find the Linn recording from hyperion-records.co.uk or linnrecords.com in 24-bit for £15 or on SACD for around £13.

Detailed reservations apart by comparison with other recordings, the new Alpha recording is well worth considering, especially by those who have been collecting the series so far.

Brian Wilson

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