Haydn: London Symphonies, Vol. 2: Symphony No. 94 (Surprise) Symphony No. 101 (Clock); Symphony No. 102

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Chandos Chaconne
WORKS: London Symphonies, Vol. 2: Symphony No. 94 (Surprise) Symphony No. 101 (Clock); Symphony No. 102
PERFORMER: Collegium Musicum 90/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 0662
Hickox gives characteristically crisp, unaffected performances of these favourite symphonies. That said, this disc is to my mind less successful than its predecessor, which contains Nos 95, 103 and 104. While Allegros bounce along happily enough, and phrasing is always thoughtful, Hickox seems disinclined to ratchet up the tension at key moments. Rhythms and sforzando accents could be more pointed, while brass and timpani are far less incisive and theatrical than on the rival period-instrument recording from Roy Goodman (Hyperion). The opening Vivace of No. 102 likewise seems too relaxed for such a trenchant piece of musical dialectic: compare Hickox with Colin Davis and the slimmed-down Concertgebouw (Philips), who make the rebarbative canonic writing in the development that much tougher and more abrasive, with stronger characterisation in the lower strings. The finales are also rather easy-going in their pacing and accentuation, though Hickox’s geniality is a valid alternative to the more dangerous, frenetic approach of Goodman here.

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Elsewhere Hickox judges nicely the tempo and character of each of the minuets, and brings more charm to the pastoral trio of No. 94 than either Davis (whose tempo here is distinctly dour) or the high-octane Goodman. The slow movements are neatly done, though in the Andante of No. 101 and the rhapsodic Adagio of No. 102 Hickox misses opportunities for poetic and (in No. 101) witty touches of timing. On period instruments Goodman’s Surprise, if occasionally rough round the edges, has a boldness and excitement I miss in Hickox’s more elegant but more cautious reading. In the two later works, though, neither Hickox nor Goodman matches Davis either in detailed local characterisation or in command of long-range symphonic drama. Richard Wigmore