WORKS: Symphony No. 50 in C; Symphony No. 54 in G; Symphony No. 55 in E flat (Schoolmaster); Symphony No. 56 in C; Symphony No. 57 in D; Symphony No. 60 in C (Il distratto)
PERFORMER: Academy of Ancient Music/ Christopher Hogwood
CATALOGUE NO: 443 781-2
It was an extraordinary confluence of bad timing and bad luck that saw five different labels embark, almost simultaneously, on recording the complete cycle of Haydn’s symphonies. Casualties were inevitable – sadly they’ve included the two best cycles: Bruno Weil/ Tafelmusik’s, now abandoned by Sony, and Christopher Hogwood/ AAM’s, currently ‘suspended’ by Decca, which means that two further volumes, already recorded, will be released, but there are ‘no immediate plans’ to record the remaining five volumes. A similar fate befell the Eighties cycle initiated by Derek Solomons and L’Estro Armonico – among the most brilliant Haydn performances I’ve heard, today they’re not even available on CD.
Hogwood can’t match the affection and brio Solomons brought to these same symphonies, but his are admirable performances; a touch brusque at times, more often a little understated, yet never less than enjoyable. And the music is scintillating, fairly fizzing with energy, wit and invention. This is post-Sturm und Drang Haydn, skilful yet exuberant, though the long slow movements, with their taut, stretched- out beauty, echo earlier tensions. James Webster is surely right to suggest that Symphonies Nos 54, 56 and 57 are masterpieces; the others, notably Il distratto, with its famous last-movement joke, are superb entertainment. Graham Lock