These Haydn symphonies are the first two of a group of five which were composed
between the 'Paris' symphonies and the 'London' symphonies and are typical
of the mature Haydn genre - characteristically full of life and humour. No
88 is a firm favourite of the regular orchestral repertoire; No 89 is, however,
only rarely performed - undeservedly so because it is every bit as full of
invention and imagination.
Performances of Haydn's operas are likewise so infrequent as to constitute
an endangered species, overshadowed as they are by the mighty works of Mozart.
It is particularly welcome then, to have recordings of these bouncy and
entrancing overtures - a reminder of just how much first-class Haydn remains
out of view.
Performers of 18th Century music are always faced with the problem: whether
to take advantage of the greater sonority and tonal robustness of 20th Century
instruments, or whether to seek to stimulate an 'authentic' 18th Century
sound with period instruments and harpsichord continuo. Both solutions can
work brilliantly when sensitively applied. It is important however, to go
for one or the other; hybrids just do not work. For all its virtues, this
recording falls uncomfortably between two stools. The 21-strong string band
(7+6+4+3+1) of the Chamber Philharmonic of Bohemia provides a perfect balance
with the woodwind, brass and percussion. However the overall effect is that
of a chamber orchestra trying to sound like a full symphony orchestra. The
harpsichord continuo is thus reduced to a background tinkle, (much of the
time almost inaudible) and an irrelevance in this context. Nevertheless,
there is much of joy and delight in these performance.
It is pleasing to note that Douglas Bostock avoids the temptation to take
the allegro and vivace movements at ridiculously rushed tempi.
A fault of some interpreters of 18th Century music is to show off their technical
skill to other professional musicians at the expense of sensitivity to the
composer's intentions and giving their audience a good time. With one notable
exception, Bostock hits tempi that are innately 'just right' making the music,
by turns, moving and exhilarating rather than merely pleasant. The exception
is the slow movement of Symphony No.88 where the tempo is a plodding crotchet=60
instead of the usual crotchet=80 to 85; the phrasing all but falls apart
and the flow is lost.
Reservations apart, these are highly worthwhile recordings and merit a place
in anyone's collection - specially that of a Haydn specialist.