WORKS: Symphony No. 100 (Military) ; Symphony No. 104 (London)
PERFORMER: Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century/Frans Brüggen
CATALOGUE NO: 434 096-2 DDD
Harnoncourt is now devoting much of his recording time to Haydn, to our pleasure and profit. The three symphonies presented on this generous recording were composed in 1765, about 1778-79 and about 1778 respectively. No. 53, called for some unexplained reason L’imperiale, was probably Haydn’s most famous symphony until the mid-1790s, circulated all over Central Europe in manuscript and printed in Amsterdam, Berlin, Paris and Bonn. It, and No. 69, which Haydn dedicated to the famous Austrian Field Marshal Laudon, or ‘Loudon’ (the CD booklet uses both spellings), belong to the deliberately popular kind of instrumental music that Haydn began writing in the latter part of the 1770s. There are catchy tunes, flashy finales (like that of No. 69) and an attempt to be much less austere than he had been in the late 1760s and early 1770s. Harnoncourt and his famous period-instrument orchestra play with gusto and much style.
But I must record an extraordinary fact: Harnoncourt (or someone under his supervision) has composed trumpet and kettledrum parts for No. 30, which Haydn wrote in 1765 without these instruments (simply because he had none). The autograph clearly specifies flute, two oboes and two horns, with a bassoon assumed to play with the bass line. And the horns are implicitly in C basso, low C.
Now it is true that one Austrian manuscript (in Schlierbach Abbey) substitutes trumpets for the horns, and Haydn’s friend Ritter von Keess owned the work in a scoring for horns and trumpets and kettledrums; but the authentic trumpet and drum parts have not survived, and moreover Harnoncourt has pitched the horns in C alto, high C. There is not a word about any of this extraordinary state of affairs in the booklet, and nowadays, that really will not do.
The Briiggen performances are everything we have come to expect from this superb orchestra and conductor; No. 104 is the finest performance of that work I have ever heard. No. 100 is good, too, but I cannot forget the performance with Harnoncourt and the Concertgebouw which was, I thought when I first received it, the finest performance of that work I had ever heard. HC Robbins Landon