ALBUM TITLE: Haydn
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 52, 53 & 59
PERFORMER: Royal Northern Sinfonia/Rebecca Miller
CATALOGUE NO: SIGCD 434
The masterpiece here is Symphony No. 52, one of the finest from Haydn’s so-called Sturm und Drang period around 1770. From the stark octaves with which the opening movement strides into action to the fraught impetus of the finale, tension is rarely relaxed – even the gentler slow movement is infested with restless little semiquaver figures. No one seems to know why Symphony No. 59 is nicknamed Fire, but it is certainly earlier – both neater and brighter in its invention. Symphony No. 53 – immensely popular in its day for its folksy slow movement variations – seems to be something of a potpourri work, thrown together from overtures and whatnot around 1775 when Haydn was desperately grinding out operas for Count Esterházy. It also comes down to us with two quite different finales, both of them recorded here.
These Royal Northern Sinfonia performances are first class: while the American conductor Rebecca Miller sets convincing tempos and secures the crispest ensemble, she has also evidently taken immense care over nuances of phrasing and the players respond accordingly. About section repeats, she is pragmatic: repeating the second half of the concise opening movement of the Fire, but not the very long first half of the slow movement of the C minor. A harpsichord continuo is audible in Symphony No. 59, but – thankfully, to this pair or ears – not in the two later symphonies: whatever the exigencies of performance before the advent of the conductor, Haydn’s mature textures are in no need of that intrusive twang.