Les Jeux et Les Plaisirs
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No.69 in C Major Laudon Hob. I:69 (1775?)
Symphony No.61 in D Major Hob. I:61 (1776)
Symphony No.66 in B Major Hob. I:66 (1775?)
Johann Michael HAYDN (1737–1806)
Sinfonia in C Major Toy Symphony Hob. II:47 (1760/1770)
Basel Chamber Orchestra/Giovanni Antonini
rec. 2020/21, Don Bosco, Basel
Haydn 2032, Vol. 12
ALPHA 690 
Giovanni Antonini’s Haydn Symphony cycle has now reached volume 12. Impressed by his endeavours, I’ve collected most of the volumes, and had the pleasure of reviewing Volume 10, featuring Symphonies 6-8 ‘The Day Trilogy’. The project is due for completion in 2032, the composer’s tercentenary anniversary. As with the previous volumes, this latest release is programmed around a theme, in this case ‘games and pleasures’, with a work by one of the composer’s contemporaries added. The performances are played on period instruments, and two ensembles share the task over the series, namely Il Giardino Armonico and the Basle Chamber Orchestra.
It’s most likely that Haydn composed these three symphonies in the following order – 69, 66 and 61. They date from the spring of 1776, marking the end of a festive period, a time of daily theatrical performances held at Eszterháza Palace.
The Symphony No. 61 in D major is modest in its scoring – one flute, pairs of oboes, bassoons, and horns, timpani and strings. A declamatory chord ushers in the opening Vivace which is energetic and buoyant throughout. The Adagio is a somewhat relaxed affair, with the serene strings cushioned by an undulating accompaniment. After a stately Menuet, Antonini brings real rhythmic life to the finale, which is carefree, effervescent and life-enhancing in character.
I wasn’t that familiar with Symphony No. 66, but it contains much that I find very attractive. After a lively opener, there’s an elegant Adagio performed with what sounds like muted strings, with Antonini employing delicacy and refinement in shaping the phrases. There’s a jaunty and zestful Menuet preceding a witty, exhilarating finale movement.
In common with the other two symphonies on this disc, the Symphony No. 69 in C major makes a stylistic departure from the composer’s earlier ‘Sturm und Drang’ symphonies. Adeptly drafted, a lighter tone runs its course. According to Haydn scholar H. C. Robbins Landon, the composer himself titled the work ‘Laudon’, using the Austrian spelling of the name of Field-Marshall Gideon Freiherr von Loudon, hero of the Ottoman campaign. In the major key throughout, its themes are accessible and memorable. The orchestration is lightly textured. However, it’s certainly not a work that breaks any molds.
The Toy Symphony dates from the 1760s and includes parts for toy instruments. So we have toy trumpet, ratchet, bird calls (cuckoo, nightingale and quail), mark tree, triangle, drum and glockenspiel. The short three-movement work was originally thought to be the work of Joseph Haydn. Later scholarship attributed it to Leopold Mozart. Some think it’s the work of Joseph Haydn's younger brother Michael. Research published in 1996 reveals the discovery of a manuscript suggesting a Benedictine monk Edmund Angerer to have composed it. Well, the jury’s out on this one. As for the work itself, I can’t say I particularly warm to it. The glut of avian hubbub I find excessive and irritating.
The playing by the Basel Chamber Orchestra is outstanding. Antonini’s tempi in the outer movements are generally brisk, with the slow movements beautifully paced. Orchestral balance is spot on. In keeping with the character of all these works, Antonini injects infectious vitality and a great sense of fun.
So, we have yet another superb addition to this significant series. The CD comes in a sturdy gatefold with attached booklet. The Spanish photographer, Cristina García Rodero’s colour photographs make a fine addition to the booklet. The recorded sound is high end.
Published: October 28, 2022