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WORKS: Symphonies Nos 82-87
PERFORMER: Zurich Chamber Orchestra/ Roger Norrington
CATALOGUE NO: 88875021332


In his brief booklet essay – all that Sony offers by way of annotation to this new release – Sir Roger Norrington argues that Haydn’s six ‘Paris’ Symphonies are both as good as music can get yet ‘can sound rather dull’ (!) if not played with ‘strong doses of both historical information and fertile imagination’. Well, one has heard inspiring performances of late Haydn by such conductors as Sir Colin Davis which had nothing to do with ‘historical information’, and impeccable ‘period’ performances by others that sounded dry as dust.

Not from Norrington, however, who is never dull, though he can be musically counter-intuitive. The term Allegretto may have meant jog trot in Haydn’s day but one may doubt whether anyone even then hurried through the second movement of Symphony No. 85 at anything like Norrington’s speed – taking three and a half minutes less than the equally ‘period’ performance by Sigiswald Kuijken and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. In any case the new reading sounds wrong now which is what matters most. Elsewhere, Norrington’s tempos are more convincing and he has evidently taken great care with the articulation and dynamic shading of phrases, if, occasionally, to the point of mannerism.


The Zurich Chamber Orchestra sounds crisp and bright, though the flute – Haydn uses only one here – is sometimes a little over-balanced. Norrington also takes all the second-half repeats in Haydn’s opening movements, which is why the six symphonies spill over onto a third disc. Bayan Northcott