Haydn: Symphony No. 70; Symphony No. 71; Symphony No. 72; Symphony No. 73; Symphony No. 74; Symphony No. 75; Symphony No. 76; Symphony No. 77; Symphony No. 78; Symphony No. 79; Symphony No. 80; Symphony No. 81

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: Symphony No. 70; Symphony No. 71; Symphony No. 72; Symphony No. 73; Symphony No. 74; Symphony No. 75; Symphony No. 76; Symphony No. 77; Symphony No. 78; Symphony No. 79; Symphony No. 80; Symphony No. 81
PERFORMER: Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra/Adam Fischer
CATALOGUE NO: NI 5652-55
Except for No. 72, wildly misplaced in the traditional numbering, all the symphonies here date from the years around 1780, and have suffered in comparison both with the turbulent works of the early 1770s and with the Paris symphonies that lay just round the corner. True, many of them cultivate a deliberately ‘easy’, popular tone. Yet within their chosen bounds these symphonies are endlessly inventive and sophisticated. Most obviously striking are the two minor-keyed works, Nos 78 and 80, with their ironic juxtapositions of vehemence and flippancy, between or even (in the unsettling opening Vivace of No. 80) within individual movements. But several of the major-keyed symphonies are no less compelling: No. 70, for instance, with its striking alternation of popular and ‘learned’ styles; or No. 77, with its typically nonchalant contrapuntal mastery and its sensuous, exquisitely scored Andante.

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Adam Fischer and his players, with their distinctive Central European sound-world, give highly enjoyable performances: occasionally a bit rough round the edges, but always vital and attentively phrased. Compared with Antal Dorati in his classic Decca cycle, Fischer’s tempi tend to be brisker (most obviously in the minuets), his manner more volatile, with more pungent textures and a sharper response to Haydn’s humour. On the downside there are irritating eccentricities, such as the inexplicable distending of the tempo at the start of No. 78. Repeats are sometimes in short supply; and, as in previous issues in this series, Fischer seems to have a fetish for using solo strings, unmarked by Haydn – an ear-tickling effect once in a while, perhaps, but here a predictable gimmick. Still, for all my provisos, Fischer’s readings would, just, get my vote over Dorati’s: less consistent, but more vividly characterised and lighter on their feet. Richard Wigmore