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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)  
Complete Paris Symphonies
Symphony No. 83 in G minor, The Hen (1785) [22:05]
Symphony No. 86 in D major (1786) [25:24]
Symphony No. 87 in A major (1785) [21:46]
Symphony No. 84 in E flat major, In the name of the Lord (1786) [21:42]
Symphony No. 85 in B flat major, The Queen (1785-6) [20:57]
Symphony No. 82 in C major, The Bear (1786) [23:39]
Orchestre de chambre de Paris/Douglas Boyd
rec. 2018/20, Philharmonie de Paris
NOMADMUSIC NMM078 [69:15 + 66:18]

Six quality symphonies, the finest for me Symphony 82 as the most integrated, like a seamless carnival procession, its four movements varied displays. In his BBC Music Guide, Haydn symphonies, H. C. Robbins Landon characterizes the first movement, “aggressive, timpani-dominated hardness and excitement”. I agree, except for “aggressive”, preferring Douglas Boyd’s way: lively, celebratory, an emphatic display of power, but not outrightly combative. In the movement’s second theme (CD2, tr. 9, 1:29) Boyd’s flute cheerily doubles the first violins, and his very clear solo bassoon sustains just two notes: a country drone which will return in the finale. Boyd makes this a really smiling, jocular contrast. There’s no drone when it appears in the development (5:17), but in the recap (6:56) it comes in more genteel fashion on the horns. Thereafter the glory of the movement is the dashing strings in the peroration and fanfares at the end given the nobility they deserve on the horns. A surprise, because most recordings use trumpets, but Haydn scores for horns or trumpets and Boyd’s use of horns in upper register brings a more sonorous yet plushly rounded effect (6:40, 7:49), less bright but less strident than trumpets.

I compare the most recent Paris symphonies set, made by the Zurich Chamber Orchestra/Roger Norrington, published 2015 and now only available as a download (Sony 88875021332). This is a more vivid account of heroic force, stentorian sforzandos, and at climactic moments with trumpets, but Boyd is easier on the ear. Yet an advantage Norrington has throughout is making the second part of the movement repeats which Boyd does not.

In his masterwork on Haydn symphonies, Robbins Landon criticises the slow movement as old-fashioned and, despite artfulness, of “a certain superficiality” (page 402). I suggest that’s Haydn’s point: space for another group, of old-fashioned but innocent dancers in this Allegretto theme and variations. Boyd is quite nifty, but with more lilt than skip. He gives us simplicity and sheer enjoyment. In Variation 1 (tr. 10, 1:25) in the minor, the first violins’ attempts to be forlorn are brusquely dismissed in the tuttis. Variation 2 (2:38) sees the theme return with flute and bassoons colouring: extra dancers joyously welcomed by Boyd. Variation 3 (3:29) is enlivened by forte running semiquavers in the string bass beneath staccato chords in the violins. In the second part the semiquavers are p in the second violins, the staccato just flute, bassoons and first violins, altogether trimmer. In Variation 4 (4:39) the theme returns with more woodwind, more jocular. In the coda, heading to a triumphant climax Boyd helps by increasing the tempo (5:39), then slowing (6:00), then speeding again (6:16).

Norrington, timing at 5:54, to Boyd’s 6:32, is more pressing, also more elegant where Boyd is more rustic. Norrington’s dynamics in Variation 1 are more alarming in extreme contrasts, as marked, but I prefer Boyd’s more tempered approach. Norrington’s woodwind additions in Variations 2 and 4 are neater, Boyd’s more jubilant. In the coda Norrington opts for more sonority rather than Boyd’s unsanctioned, but effective, tempo changes.

Boyd’s Minuet combines grandeur with a pulse that allows the sprightly violins and woodwind some escape from it, while nothing could be more carefree than the oboe and bassoon duet that commands the Trio. Norrington’s slower pulse, timing the movement at 4:44 to Boyd’s 3:36, renders the Minuet more stiffly formal and the Trio with every movement surveyed under microscope. In the finale a drone is prominent beneath the opening theme. A piano arrangement in 1829 was called ‘Dance of the Bear’ as such music accompanied this. Orchestrally of more significance is the drone’s switch to shrieks in the first violins, violas and oboes (tr. 12, 0:30), climaxing in all instruments except the violins and partially the flute left with the tune (4:28). Rhythmic clarity and interchange between instruments are finely realized by Boyd, but ultimately, he’s over civilized in comparison with Norrington’s Dervish like wildness.

Now, my best of the rest. Top first movement, Symphony 85 where Boyd gives us in the first main body theme (tr. 5, 0:37) Marie Antoinette as velvety purring as you could wish but then, for severe cares of state, a second theme (1:12), the opening theme of Symphony 45 recycled, mollified from F sharp minor to F minor, but still distanced from the B flat major purr. You admire how smoothly Haydn and Boyd switch between the two.

Top slow movement, Symphony 87 with a warm Adagio in the strings, an affectionate melody with horns’ backing (CD1, tr. 10), like a prayer of thanksgiving. Over its repeat the flute brings the first of a series of gorgeous woodwind arabesques. The oboe introduces the second theme (1:03) with them, joined by bassoon, then first violins add their own dance. After the return of the first theme comes an idyllic comment from a luscious trio of flute and two solo oboes (2:22). Boyd’s soloists play with freshness and directness.

Top Minuet and Trio, Symphony 87 again. The Minuet is dominated by its opening rising figure of two demisemiquavers-plus-dotted quaver which Haydn scatters so much you long to escape it. The relief is an oboe solo Trio, with a wonderful second strain whose four quavers tail is sequenced twice to reach the apex of the melody. Boyd takes this trippingly, his oboist unpretentious. Norrington, timing the Trio at 1:12 to Boyd’s 0:57, gives his oboist more space for some delightfully cheeky ornamentation in the repeats.

Top finale, Symphony 86 the most chipper. With Boyd you get the advantage of the trumpets standing out in the only symphony scored for both trumpets and horns. I always look forward to the well-nigh impossible demand made on the cellos and basses to dovetail the other instruments’ short statements with a four semiquavers-plus-quaver mordent. This happens thrice (tr. 8, 1:21, 1:22 and 1:24) and twice again in the movement (from 2:58, 5:21). I can’t hear the first of Boyd’s entries (bar 60), while I can Norrington’s: perhaps Boyd favours a clean break there?

Michael Greenhalgh

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