LABELS: Chandos Chaconne
WORKS: London Symphonies, Vol. 1: Symphony No. 95; Symphony No. 103 (Drumroll) ; Symphony No.104 (London)
PERFORMER: Collegium Musicum 90/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 0655
Period-instrument recordings of Haydn’s London symphonies are still surprisingly thin on the ground. Which makes this new offering, the first in a projected four-disc survey, all the more welcome. Abetted by first-rate playing from Collegium Musicum 90, Hickox’s performances combine a shrewd feeling for tempo with a keen response to the music’s symphonic sweep and flamboyant contrasts of texture and dynamics. Hickox rightly allows plenty of space in the outer movements of No. 95: with a strong rhythmic thrust and an emphasis on Haydn’s moderato qualification, the disparate elements of the unsettling opening movement cohere powerfully, while the ringing polyphony in the C major finale has an ideal clarity and point.
At the opening of No. 103 Hickox takes Haydn’s ‘Solo intrada’ as a cue for a theatrical mini-cadenza, which could well be closer to the composer’s intentions than the traditional drumroll. The main Allegro is done broadly, with an infectious lilt to the dance rhythms, though Hickox is inclined to let the impetus flag in the development. But the (not-so) slow movement is cannily paced and characterised, and the breathtaking finale unfolds with a powerful sense of cumulative growth. As for No. 104, Hickox gives a characteristically alert, invigorating reading, with a finely graded crescendo of tension in the first-movement development, and a lusty kick to the rhythms in the minuet. One or two key moments could be more poetically timed and shaded. But with few provisos, Hickox’s performances can be recommended to any Haydn lover. A rival period-instrument version of Nos 103 and 104, from Sigiswald Kuijken (Harmonia Mundi), has many good things. But this new disc scores in its tangier characterisation, its more transparent sound and in offering the substantial bonus of a third symphony. Richard Wigmore