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Haydn symsV25 HC21035
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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Complete Symphonies – Volume 25
Symphony No. 18 in G major, Hob. I:18 [13:05]
Symphony No. 2 in C major, Hob. I:2 [7:58]
Symphony No. 20 in C major, Hob. I:2 [16:07]
Symphony No. 17 in F major, Hob. I:17 [18:27]
Symphony No. 19 in D major, Hob. I:19 [11:52]
Heidelberger Sinfoniker/Johannes Klumpp
rec. July 2020, Palatin Wiesloch, Baden-Württemberg, Germany

It is now over twenty years since the Heidelberger Sinfoniker began its projected cycle of the complete Haydn symphonies on Hänssler Classic. The cycle came suddenly to a halt in 2014 when sadly the orchestra founder and conductor Thomas Fey sustained a serious head injury and still cannot conduct. It was decided that the orchestra would continue the cycle in the interim under the direction of its concertmaster Benjamin Spillner, who on volume 23 issued in 2017 conducted the symphonies nos. 35, 46 and 51, coupled with nos. 6, 7 and 8 that Fey had already recorded. Volume 24 was released in 2018 (review), with Spillner directing from the violin the Symphonies Nos. 9, 37, 38 and 63, all C major scores.

Beginning at the start of the 2020/21 season, the Heidelberger Sinfoniker appointed Johannes Klumpp as its new artistic director and chief conductor. A prize-winning conductor, Stuttgart-born Klumpp had taken lessons from Manfred Schreier and Thomas Ungar and studied conducting at the Hochschule für Musik Franz Liszt, Weimar. As Fey’s successor, Klumpp is also a specialist on period informed performance practice. Under Klumpp, the project has been revived to complete the recordings of all the remaining Haydn symphonies in the cycle which customarily reaches as far as 104, or 106 - and now 107, according to recent scholarly research. Klumpp intends to record and present the symphonies in chronological order - which is certainly my preferred approach. As always, the main drawback is the difficulty of establishing definite composition dates for Haydn’s works.

It has been customary to use the ‘Hoboken’ numbers from the Haydn works catalogue compiled by Anthony van Hoboken (1887-1983). However modern scholarship has established that these are frequently unreliable where composition dates are concerned, especially with the earliest symphonies. Also available are ‘HRL’ numbers, the listing compiled by H.C. Robbins-Landon in 1955, which is an improvement on the ‘Hoboken’ composition dates. According to more recent research - notably the catalogue raisonné given on the site - Haydn’s first salaried appointment was serving as Kapellmeister at the court of Count Morzin during 1757-61. As part of the Morzin court, Haydn would accompany the aristocratic family during the summer to Dolní Lukavice near the Pilsen area in Bohemia, and in the winter to Vienna in Austria. Haydn’s first seventeen symphonies are most probably products of his employment with Count Morzin. These so-called ‘Morzin’ symphonies are listed chronologically by Hoboken numbers: 1, 37, 18, 2, 4, 27, 10, 20, 17, 19, 107, 23, 11, 5, 32, 15 and 3. Financial problems meant that Count Morzin dispensed with his musicians and Haydn found employment in the service of the wealthy Prince Anton Esterházy at Eisenstadt, initially as assistant Kapellmeister; nevertheless, it was a considerable promotion. This first album release from Johannes Klumpp with the Heidelberger Sinfoniker contains a group of five of the ‘Morzin’ symphonies nos. 2, 17, 18, 19 and 20.

Adopting aspects of period informed performance practice, the Heidelberger Sinfoniker, twenty-one strong including thirteen strings, do employ vibrato but only discreetly. The orchestra playing is first-rate and I have no reservations whatsoever concerning Klumpp’s chosen tempi which seem unforced and well judged. The orchestral sound does tend to be dominated by the winds. Ideally, I want a richer tone from the string section which here comes across as lean and bright without bloom. I’m unsure if this is down to the modest number of strings or the actual sound recording. Klumpp ensures a pleasing intimacy to the slow movements which are admirably played, notably the Andante ma non troppo of Symphony No. 17 which is writing of a melancholy character rare for early Haydn. I feel that the Menuet of the four movement Symphony No. 20 would have profited from additional refinement. In general, the Allegro and Presto movements are suitably upbeat and ebullient, but these performances of the early symphonies rather lack the sparkle that Fey ensured. On the evidence of this single release, the approach to Haydn adopted by Klumpp feels more circumspect than Fey who would often drive forcefully and loved to emphasise Haydn’s typical restlessness. Recorded under studio conditions on the Palatin Wiesloch, Baden-Württemberg, the engineering team provide sonics that are certainly acceptable, yet I’m unsure that the string section has been caught at its best. Klumpp has written the booklet note, which is quite helpful, and mentions each of the five symphonies in turn, although a little more detail would not have gone amiss.

There is some significant competition from other complete sets Haydn symphonies. Since its release in 2002, my preferred complete cycle has been that from maestro Ádám Fischer conducting the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra. A project taking 14 years to complete, it is undoubtably a notable achievement, and the playing of his orchestra is consistently compelling. Fischer recorded the set at the Esterházy Palace, Eisenstadt with the 33 CDs presented in Hoboken number order on Brilliant Classics. When I interviewed maestro Fischer in 2018 in the Semperoper, Dresden, prior to a performance of Beethoven’s Fidelio, I asked him about his successful Haydn cycle, and he expressed the view that today he would do it differently - not a response I was surprised to hear, as I guess many conductors would say something similar. In the 1970s on Decca, Antal Doráti and the Philharmonia Hungarica recorded the first complete cycle of the Haydn symphonies, a set which was remastered and issued on CDs in 1991. At the time, this was regarded as a pioneering set from Dorati but today the style of playing and the sound quality is not to my taste, and I don’t believe it provides any serious competition. Two complete sets on period-instruments that I know yet rarely play are from Trevor Pinnock with The English Concert on Archiv Produktion and Derek Solomons with L’Estro Armonico on CBS Masterworks/Sony Classical. Although left incomplete, there is a cycle on period-instruments from Roy Goodman and the Hanover Band on Hyperion that was widely admired but that is a set I am not too familiar with. Worthy of attention, although a project still in progress, is the projected complete set conducted by Giovanni Antonini entitled ‘Haydn 2032’ on Alpha Classics. Antonini divides the symphonies between two period-instrument ensembles: Il Giardino Armonico and the Kammerorchester Basel and I notice he arranges the symphonies thematically, not chronologically.

In summary, this huge Haydn project from the Heidelberger Sinfoniker established so outstandingly by Thomas Fey is here successfully continued by Johannes Klumpp with this single album release of five early Haydn symphonies.

Michael Cookson

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