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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 63 in C major La Roxelane (1779/1780) [20:12]
Symphony No. 43 in E flat major Mercury (1771/1772) [26:57]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Romanian Folk Dances (1915, orch 1917) [5:21]
Sonata Jucunda (late 1670s?) [6:06]
Joseph HAYDN
Symphony No. 28 in A major (1765) [17:57]
Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini
rec. 2018, Euregio Kulturzentrum Gustav Mahler, Toblach, Italy
Haydn 2032 Project Volume 8
ALPHA CLASSICS 682 [76:43]

The CD is part of an ongoing series, played on period instruments, which is intended to culminate with the composer’s tricentenary in 2032; this very welcome disc includes three less familiar symphonies. Haydn remains arguably the most neglected of all the great composers. It is a rare pleasure to listen to the dozens of virtually unknown symphonies between No. 39 and No. 91 – to select an approximate span which happens to include many pieces typical of Haydn’s inexhaustible imagination. Were it not for commercial recordings, we should never hear most of them.

In Symphony No. 63 Haydn reuses previous material, though one would never guess, so we should not bother ourselves. Many of the great composers recycled music from time to time, and they were professional about it. Here the first movement is based on the Overture: Il mondo della luna. The second movement is taken from incidental music for Soliman der zweite. At that time, Haydn was busily occupied with composing and producing operas, so he recycled music for inclusion in his symphonies as a time-saving measure.

The opening movement is played with bristling energy, superb attack and terrific character, whether fiery or elegant. For some the fortes, that may be too fierce, but I find it all thrilling, or to use a hackneyed word, dynamic. One cannot for a second doubt the total commitment of all involved. Antonini observes repeats throughout the disc. I am not dogmatic about repeats, but I do believe we usually benefit from hearing Haydn’s development sections twice. The delightful second movement Allegretto piů tosto Allegro, alternating between C minor and C major, is played with elegance and buoyancy. The symphony’s title, La Roxelane, is the name of the melody used for this double-variation movement, taken from the name of the heroine in the original incidental music. Antonini’s tempo is ideal – not at all unnaturally hurried as we find with some conductors who seem to be carrying out their duty in the name of historically informed practice. The springy minuet has a trio dominated by the oboist, who beautifully decorates the melody on its repeat. Sprightly and characterful, the finale is performed here with nimble brilliance. The manuscript of Symphony No. 63 was destroyed in a fire, so Haydn was obliged to reconstruct the work, with extra flute and a new finale (as recorded here), for later publication – hence the existence of two versions.

Symphony No. 43 starts with a terrific bump, repeated each time there is a triple-stopped forte (forte only!) in the violins. Here I find the fierceness incongruous. A warmer forte would be more in keeping with the prevailing character of the movement. Otherwise the playing is so wonderfully stylish that perhaps one can forgive the moments of aggression. The slow movement strikes me as a little sluggish, even melancholy, though admittedly Haydn’s marking is Adagio. Perhaps a more sustained melodic line would have been more successful. After a minuet which is not among Haydn’s finest, the exhilarating and often quirky finale receives a typically energetic performance.

Bartók’s dances may seem an odd choice, but I have always found that Haydn and Bartók go well together, for some less than obvious reason. This Italian orchestra’s performance is engaging, if not as earthy as it might be. The popularity and accessibility of these dances are well established but I feel they are also – irrespective of their “lollipop” status – fully characteristic of Bartók’s language and style, albeit in miniature. For me they retain their freshness, attractive and strangely exotic at the same time. Antonini himself plays the chalumeau (very audibly) in No. 1 and the transverse flute in No. 3.

The anonymous piece Sonata Jucunda, scored for two violins, three violas and basso continuo, is a curiosity. Its inclusion is justified by its “musical imitation of traditional Hanák music”, “deliberately evoking peasant music-making” and conveying “the impression of a disorderly playing style, sometimes even to faulty ensemble” – to quote from the booklet. Hanák refers to Hanakia, or what is now the Haná region of Moravia. Several other sources attribute this Jucunda (= pleasant or delightful) sonata to Biber.

Haydn’s Symphony No. 28 is one more illustration of his notable inability to produce anything dull. A hyperactive opening movement (thus tailor-made for Antonini and his band), written in 3/4 but almost entirely sounding like 6/8, is followed by a fascinating Poco adagio in which lyrical and march-like phrases alternate. The minuet (Allegro molto!) has many abrasive bariolage effects, while the trio is of strangely subdued, rather morose character. In the style of a fast gigue, the brief finale is straightforward and free from eccentricity. Christian Moritz-Bauer’s booklet notes suggests a link between this symphony and some incidental music, a type of recycling already noted in connection with Symphony No. 63. He also describes the journey made by this intelligently planned CD: “the Balkan route in reverse”, Eisenstadt, Esterháza, Kroměříž, Transylvania and Constantinople.

The recorded sound is excellent, while the lavishly illustrated and well annotated package is of equally high quality. Overall this is a stimulating and very enjoyable CD.

Philip Borg-Wheeler

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