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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Overture, Opera “Il mondo della luna” (1777) [4:02]
Symphony No 98 in B-flat major (1792) [27:40]
Symphony No 100 in G major “Military” (1793/4) [23:35]
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Claudio Abbado
rec. 1995, live
Presto CD
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 439 932-2 [55:35]

This Presto facsimile comes from Abbado’s set of seven of Haydn’s twelve London Symphonies (plus the Sinfonia Concertante). In this case it is joined by the overture to the opera, translated as “The world on the Moon”. Although these recordings are available in a “Symphony Edition” and in a set of the late symphonies, this CD is attracting high prices as a deletion on the second-hand market, thus, in economic terms, justifying its reissue. As an admirer of Claudio Abbado for over thirty years it’s been a great pleasure for me to revisit these recordings and evaluate them in 2021.

Haydn still seems not to enjoy his deserved recognition despite his pioneering work with symphonies, string quartets and piano trios. His operas in particular are grossly neglected. Antal Dorati recorded a great deal of Haydn for Decca in the 1970s. As David Wyn Jones explains in his useful notes (a feature of Presto reissues is that they are retained from the original) “The whole of the world” with silly texts was not a great success so Haydn unsurprisingly used it as the opening movement of Symphony No 63. It works well as a stand-alone piece and makes an enchanting makeweight before two of Haydn’s supreme symphonic masterpieces.

Haydn wrote the “London Symphonies” after his time at Esterhazy. They were written on the commission of the impresario Johann Peter Salomon and after the death of Mozart. The consummation of his life’s work in the symphonic genre, these works are full of his love of humanity and illustrate that he must have had a fine orchestra available.

Claudio Abbado made several recordings with the excellent Chamber Orchestra of Europe, including a magnificent cycle of Schubert Symphonies and Orchestral works for DG (review by Leslie Wright). The qualities of those recordings are ever-present here. The first movement of Symphony No 98, not one of the most well-known, is serious in tone but was so successful in the first performance at the Hanover Rooms, that it and the finale were repeated. The Adagio bears more than a passing resemblance to God Save the King. Haydn had heard the melody played by a wind band “in the street during a wild snowstorm”. I find these contemporary notes totally fascinating and they help to make the music feel present and relevant. The Menuetto-Allegretto is very vigorous but Haydn gives parts of the orchestra solo opportunities. Abbado’s orchestra is not excessively large and this allows the listener to hear this effect which might be lost with greater forces. The entrancing and magnetic finale is a superb ending to this generally very positive work which certainly offers plenty of opportunities for some flourishes from the wind. Haydn, showing his impish humour, wrote a short solo for the continuo harpsichord and it’s unsurprising that this and the ebullience of the movement brought the house down. I’m sure that Beecham (EMI/Warner) was in his element here but this doesn’t detract from the excellence of Abbado and COE who are splendidly recorded. If you don’t know this work, please do try it; sheer joy.

Haydn’s “Military” symphony, so named after the effects in the second movement Allegretto and along with The Surprise, is one of Haydn’s most popular. It has been recorded many times and as well by the aforementioned Beecham, who bemoaned the lack of percussion, I’m particularly fond of Eugen Jochum and LSO (DG) and Sir Colin Davis with The Royal Concertgebouw (Philips). Sadly he didn’t record this work with the LSO, although five of the symphonies were. I find it hard to hear the first movement, witty and humorous in places, without conjuring up Timothy West in his fine stage portrayal of Beecham. Abbado and his band are very good too. The famous second movement Allegretto, interestingly previously used earlier as a march for the King of Naples, should be sheer musical noise, recalling the sound of battle but also of fun. There’s no doubt that Abbado and the COE deliver on this score. It is also extremely well captured by the record engineers. The booklet states that these are live recordings but not where they were made. There is no audience sound that I can detect but the positive spontaneity of a live performance is certainly present. The mood becomes gentler with the typically affable Menuet and I believe Abbado has judged the contrast about right. I’ve read elsewhere that his performance is underpowered, not so in my opinion. There’s more than one way to play this delightful music and I applaud the litheness displayed here in the spirit of the dance. Let us remember that Abbado became a very fine exponent of the “Apotheosis of the Dance”, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. The Finale: Presto goes extremely well and Haydn brings in some “military’ sounds to great effect towards the end. These bring the Symphony to a rousing conclusion. A splendid rendition of a magnificent work; very good to hear again.

This CD sets out excellent examples of Haydn’s prowess as a symphony composer and of Abbado’s achievements with the COE. If you don’t want the 4 CD Haydn box or the larger “Symphony Edition” this single reissue will suit very well.

David R Dunsmore

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