Haydn: Symphony No. 93; Symphony No. 94 (Surprise); Symphony No. 101 (Clock) (arr. Salomon)

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Channel
WORKS: Symphony No. 93; Symphony No. 94 (Surprise); Symphony No. 101 (Clock) (arr. Salomon)
PERFORMER: Florilegium
CATALOGUE NO: CCS 19698
In the days before recording, the only way the larger musical public could get to know an orchestral work well was through arrangements. The standard medium in Haydn’s day was the piano trio; but the canny musical impresario Johann Peter Salomon who commissioned Haydn’s 12 ‘London’ symphonies also published them in these very practical versions for flute, string quartet and fortepiano – thereby introducing the music to drawing-rooms all over Britain, and in the process making himself even richer than before.

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But aside from the historical interest, have they anything important to tell us about Haydn? Well, go back to the full-orchestral versions after these radically slimmed down versions and you’ll immediately be struck by the brilliance of Haydn’s orchestration. But at the same time these superbly accomplished, intelligent and spirited performances show how little of the substance of Haydn’s music need be lost in translation. More than that, they show that a chamber ensemble can bring out details and subtleties that might be masked in an orchestral performance. They’re also very enjoyable to listen to – surprisingly so, in fact. That’s partly because of the excellent recordings, which balance the ensemble to perfection and give it a wonderful bloom. Quite simply, this is first-rate Haydn playing, and strongly recommendable as that. Stephen Johnson