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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphonies - Volume 24
Symphony No. 63 in C major, Hob. I:63 [22:07]
Symphony No. 38 in C major, Hob. I:38 [17:48]
Symphony No. 37 in C major, Hob. I:37 [15:00]
Symphony No. 9 in C major, Hob. I:9 [11:39]
Heidelberger Sinfoniker/Benjamin Spillner (concertmaster)
rec. 2018, Naturhornakademie, Bad Dürkheim (near Mannheim), Germany

Heidelberger Sinfoniker reach volume 24 in the ongoing series of complete Haydn symphonies on Hänssler Classic. Begun in 1999, Thomas Fey’s projected cycle of the complete Haydn symphonies with Heidelberger Sinfoniker came to an abrupt halt with a serious injury to the German conductor. The orchestra management has informed me that Thomas Fey can no longer conduct. The completion of the entire Haydn cycle depends upon sponsorship sought to record the eleven remaining discs. In the meantime, the orchestra has been continuing the cycle under the direction of concertmaster Benjamin Spillner. He has already directed and recorded some symphonies in the cycle, notably volume 23 with Symphonies Nos. 6, 7, 8 (Fey) and 35, 46, 51 (Spillner).

The editorial with this album explains that Anthony van Hoboken catalogued a total of 104 Haydn symphonies. Musicologists have increased the number of extant Haydn symphonies to 106. For this volume, the Heidelberger Sinfoniker has recorded Symphonies Nos. 9, 37, 38 and 63, all four in the key of C major, written around twenty-three years apart. The earliest symphony here was written in 1758, when Haydn was in his mid-twenties.

Despite its number, Symphony No. 37 is actually one of Haydn’s earliest symphonies from 1758, probably written for the orchestra of Count Morzin where Haydn was Kapellmeister. Next came Symphony No. 9, thought to have been completed around 1762, and introduced at Eisenstadt where Haydn was now vice-Kapellmeister for the Esterházy Court. Concluding with a Menuetto-Trio: Finale, the work is more of an opera overture than a symphony.

Written circa 1765/1769, Symphony No. 38, a work for Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, is sometimes known as ‘Echo’ Symphony owing to passages in the Andante where muted second violins echo the first violins. There is a notable virtuosic oboe part in the final two movements. Symphony No. 63, written around 1779/1781, is known as ‘La Roxelane’. The second movement Allegretto was originally part of the incidental music to Favart’s comedy Soliman der zweite (or Les Trois Sultanes) which was performed at court. Its title comes from the name of the second movement after Roxelana, the heroine of the play who was married to Suleiman the Magnificent. Recorded here is the second of two versions of the score; it omits one of the bassoons, a pair of trumpets and drums used in the first version.

Benjamin Spillner informs me that Heidelberger Sinfoniker “plays on modern instruments (except the horns) but always tries to respect the knowledge of historical performance. There are some technical things like using the bow (speed and pressure of the bow), articulation, phrasing and understanding the vibrato as an ornament, not as a general concept of sound.” Interestingly, Spillner says that often other musicians are amazed that the orchestra are not playing with gut strings because it sounds as if it is. Spillner explains: “That shows how much good phrasing, ‘Klangrede’ and a historical way of bowing create a sound nearly like on authentic string-instruments.” This is all information worthy of inclusion in the booklet notes.

Concertmaster Spillner adeptly leads the Heidelberger Sinfoniker through the contrasting character of each movement of the four symphonies. One senses the players relish the recording process, and give freshly spirited and assured performances that I feel deserve real kudos. Overall, this is incisive playing that accentuates the ebullient, often exhilarating, drive of the opening and closing movements. I love the bold orchestral colours produced. There is an attractive, elegance to the dance-like Menuets that are lively and crisp; the slow movements have an affectionate quality that never cloys.

The album was recorded at Naturhornakademie, Bad Dürkheim, near Mannheim. The venue provides a satisfyingly consistent acoustic that has clarity, presence and pleasing balance. Lothar Brandt is the author of the helpful booklet essay. These are highly compelling, period-informed performances from Heidelberger Sinfoniker that conspicuously maintain the excellence of this Hänssler Classic series.

Michael Cookson


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