WORKS: Symphony No. 53; Symphony No. 54; Symphony No. 61; Symphony No. 66; Symphony No. 67; Symphony No. 68; Symphony No. 69
PERFORMER: Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood
CATALOGUE NO: 460 776-2
It’s salutary to recall that as late as the 1780s Haydn was being attacked as a reckless experimenter whose bizarre and innovatory sounds were an affront to tradition. Though 20th century critics have looked more kindly on his experimentalism, they’ve generally reserved their praise for the ‘Sturm und Drang’ symphonies (from c1765 to c1773) and disparaged the experiments with popular styles and theatre musics that characterize Haydn’s symphonies of the later 1770s.
These two releases should expunge that prejudice. Their 17 different symphonies are a delight to hear, with several – 54, 56, 57, 64, 67, 68 – close to being masterpieces. Christopher Hogwood’s latest volume maintains its predecessor’s high standards. His urbane approach is well-suited to Haydn’s playful artifice and the AAM again perform superbly. Hogwood allows the music room to breathe; unlike so many others, he neither overstates the comedy nor tries to gloss over the eccentricities. It’s a tragedy that Decca has suspended his cycle, with only one of the six remaining volumes scheduled for release.
Adam Fischer’s Nimbus set has improved markedly since its inception. The sound is clearer, the playing sharper. Airy textures and nimble tempos bespeak period practice influence, though Fischer has persisted with the too-smooth timbres of modern instruments. A bigger problem is his omission of several repeats, an unmitigated (if common) philistinism that insults both Haydn and the listener. Fischer’s is certainly the most accomplished modern-instruments cycle available, yet period performances by such as Hogwood, Pinnock and Weil generally yield more characterful results. Graham Lock