Haydn: Symphony No. 43 (Mercury); Symphony No. 44 (Trauer); Symphony No. 49 (La passione); Symphony No. 52; Symphony No. 59 (Fire); Symphony No. 64 (Tempora mutantur)

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Nimbus
WORKS: Symphony No. 43 (Mercury); Symphony No. 44 (Trauer); Symphony No. 49 (La passione); Symphony No. 52; Symphony No. 59 (Fire); Symphony No. 64 (Tempora mutantur)
PERFORMER: Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra/Adam Fischer
CATALOGUE NO: NI 7072-73 Reissue (1994-7)
Though Nimbus is coy about revealing dates on the packaging, this pair of discs recycles performances recorded between 1994 and 1997 and already issued in four-disc sets. Of the half-dozen middle-period symphonies on offer here, only the three sombre, explosive minor-keyed works are in authentic ‘Storm and Stress’ vein. No. 59, enigmatically nicknamed ‘Fire’, has that quirky, highly strung brilliance typical of Haydn’s earlier symphonies, while Nos 43 and 64 combine driving, sinewy tuttis with a reflective lyricism and (in No. 64) harmonic subtlety new in Haydn’s symphonic Allegros. Compared with lean-and-hungry period-instrument rivals such as Bruno Weil (Sony) or Trevor Pinnock (Archiv), Fischer and his (modern-instrument) Austro-Hungarian forces give more mellow, more flexible and, often, more broadly paced readings: the plangent, faintly sweet violin tone is recognisably Viennese, and the slow movements score particularly with their chamber-musical delicacy and warmth. Though allegros and minuets have ample rhythmic life, Fischer does not ratchet up the tension to near-breaking point as his rivals do in, say, the outer movements of Nos 44 and 52. And, as ever, he gratuitously uses solo strings in the trios of minuets – the fey little solo echoes in No. 49 become ever more irritating on repeated listening. For all this, Fischer would get my vote over the more deliberate, heavyweight modern-instrument readings in Dorati’s complete cycle. But in the minor-keyed works, especially, Pinnock and Weil (above all his searing account of No. 52) still lead the field for edge-of-seat excitement. Richard Wigmore

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