LABELS: Decca L’Oiseau-Lyre
WORKS: Symphony No. 62; Symphony No. 63 (La Roxelane); Symphony No. 70; Symphony No. 71; Symphony No. 73 (La chasse); Symphony No.74; Symphony No. 75
PERFORMER: Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood
CATALOGUE NO: 466 941-2
‘Serious entertainment’ is how James Webster describes the symphonies on this latest Haydn volume from the AAM. These symphonies, the last Haydn wrote for the Esterházy court (Prince Nicolaus having become increasingly obsessed with opera), maintain the formal experimentation and comic bravura of their immediate predecessors. Several, though, show signs of hasty composition, probably in the aftermath of the catastrophic fire that in 1779 destroyed much of the court’s musical archive, and the level of inspiration is not as consistently high as previously. Still, the terse, dramatic No. 70 and the zestful No. 73, with its exuberant horns, are excellent works, and Haydn’s genius is in plentiful supply elsewhere – No. 74’s witty, inventive Vivace assai, for example, and No. 75’s anthemic Poco adagio, which begins in halting formality, then blossoms into delicate beauty.
The AAM does err on the side of understatement, but its performances are mostly sensitive, elegant and committed, yielding great delight. Recording of the remaining symphonies is currently ‘on hold’: it will be a terrible shame if Universal does not allow Christopher Hogwood to complete this outstanding cycle.
Hänssler, meanwhile, has launched a new symphony cycle due to reach fruition in 2009, Haydn’s bicentennial. Unfortunately, conductor Thomas Fey has made some dubious choices – using modern strings and woodwind (but period brass and timpani) and including a harpsichord continuo – that rather unbalance Haydn’s subtle instrumental sonorities. The Schlierbach Chamber Orchestra plays with gusto, but Bruno Weil and Tafelmusik remain peerless in their thrilling accounts of the enigmatic Tempora mutantur and the revolutionary Farewell. Graham Lock