Haydn: Symphony No. 99 in E flat; Symphony No. 100 in G (Military); Overture to an English Opera (Overtura Covent Garden)

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Symphony No. 99 in E flat; Symphony No. 100 in G (Military); Overture to an English Opera (Overtura Covent Garden)
PERFORMER: London Classical Players/Roger Norrington
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 55192 2 DDD
The six later ‘London’ symphonies were written by Haydn in 1794-5 to celebrate his second visit to the capital. Roger Norrington began his account of these magnificent works earlier in the year, with a new recording of Nos 103 and 104; these two CDs, issued simultaneously, complete the task. Of the four symphonies performed here, Nos 99 and 102 are among Haydn’s finest, the latter graced with a wonderful, rapturous Adagio, while No. 101, the ‘Clock’, epitomises its composer’s wit and elegance.

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Norrington’s interpretations are bold and provocative, full of dramatic bravura. His versions of the faster, outer movements are exhilarating: phrasing is sharp, rhythms taut and exciting. I love the sound the London Classical Players create, their period instruments producing dark, hard yet finely polished textures.

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But Norrington is less persuasive with the inner movements, where he gives the beauty and gaiety of Haydn’s music short shrift. He takes the adagios and No. 101’s famous, ticking Andante very quickly, missing their expressive lilt, while his minuets seem a touch straight-laced. The best rival versions of these symphonies – by Colin Davis (Philips) and Eugen Jochum (DG) – may lack Norrington’s erratic brilliance, but I think they provide a more complete picture of Haydn’s genius. Graham Lock