Haydn: London Symphonies

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Challenge Classics
WORKS: London Symphonies: No. 98 in B flat; No. 97 in C
PERFORMER: Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra/ Ton Koopman
CATALOGUE NO: CC 72360

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Founded by Ton Koopman back in 1979, the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra is now one of the older period instrument orchestras around, and something of the severe ‘stripping off the varnish’ fundamentalism of 1970s historical performance practice still survives in its playing, to judge from this first release in their projected recording of all 12 of Haydn’s London Symphonies.

Koopman’s line-up of 25 players is far fewer than the 40-odd orchestra that the impresario Salomon provided for Haydn in the spring of 1792, when these two symphonies received their triumphant premieres. Then, too, string vibrato (not to say sentiment) is strongly restrained in an approach that goes all out for clarity and crispness of articulation.

The recorded sound has a matching definition, though the winds (more closely miked?) occasionally overbalance the strings. Not that Koopman is rigidly doctrinaire. He is happy to add unwritten dynamic shadings, or extra timpani flourishes at cadences where he wishes, while his dashing tempo for the minuet of Symphony No. 97, with its lurching folk band trio, almost turns it into a new piece. 

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But where is the mystery in the slow introductions; where the singing line in the slow movements? Where is Haydn the proto-Romantic? These new recordings are certainly as finely played as the recent Marc Minkowski set with his Musiciens du Louvre, Grenoble (Naïve, reviewed in the August issue), and more cleanly recorded, but Minkowski’s players find so much more of Haydn in the music. Bayan Northcott