Sunday, May 22, 2011

Haydn: Symphonies 'Le Martin', 'Le Midi', 'Le Soir' - TEC, Pinnock

Joseph Haydn
Symphonies 'Le Martin', 'Le Midi', 'Le Soir'
The English Concert, Trevor Pinnock
Archiv 423 098-2

These symphonies are the first music Haydn wrote on his appointment, in 1761, as vice-Kapellmeister to the Esterhazy family. It was apparently his prince's idea-or so he recalled many years later-that they should describe in some sense the times of day. Haydn did not take the idea too far: you can hear a couple of sunrises in Le mat in and there is an evening storm in No. 8, but otherwise any programmatic elements are likely to be, as it were, in the ear or the imagination of the beholder. What Haydn does seem to have done is determine to show off the skills of the new band he had at his command. To judge by the music, those skills must have been considerable: the first violin has a great deal of solo work, often quite demanding, and the first cello too is much favoured; the flute, oboes, bassoon and even the double-bass have numerous prominent passages-in No. 6 there is a remarkable trio for bassoon, doublebass, viola and cello, followed by a slow movement consisting of a recitative for solo violin leading to a very beautiful, concerto-like Adagio for him with prominent flutes and cello and a concluding double cadenza. Not all the invention is distinguished; in a sense, the concertante writing militates against the kind of symphonic thinking that was always Haydn's greatest strength. Some movements, like the Andante of Le soir, are to my taste long and thin; but Haydn's sturdy humour and general good cheer are never far away.

And that side of him is finely caught in these performances. Tempos are brisk, textures light and clear (the string band is Phrasing is well marked. The solo work has plenty of vitality: Simon Standage, the leader, earns special praise for his clean-limbed and often expressive violin solos, while the cello and flute (Jaap ter Linden and Lisa Beznosiuk) show particular agility. The Academy of St Martin in the Fields, on the Philips disc noted above, tend to 'civilize' the music somewhat, playing it in a more traditional manner, with much vibrato and altogether smoother phrasing: some readers may find their performance falling more sweetly on the ear, but the new one, using period instruments and having a good deal less of surface polish, does give a truer notion of the special character of the music. The recorded sound is bright and clear.

S.S., Gramophone Magazine 1988

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