Haydn: Sturm Und Drang Symphonies Vol. 9 / Solomons, L'estro Armonico

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The six symphonies in Volume 9—though, in fact this is only the fifth album to be released— belong to the early 1770s when certain painters, writers and composers in pockets of Germany were expressing themselves in a language of sensibility. They were the years when the brief but important literary "Storm and Stress" cult began to be most active, though the application of the term to Haydn's symphonies of the late 1760s and early 1770s gives us only haifa picture. One of the striking features of these symphonies is the element of contrast—contrast, above all, perhaps, in temperament and in tonal colour but also in technique arising from Haydn's evident delight in experimentation. The symphonies in this volume comprise a richly varied programme but it is sobering to consider how comparatively seldom we are given a chance of hearing in the concert hall all but one or two of them.

I have enjoyed the previous issues in the series with L'Estro Armonico directed by Derek Solomons, and to judge from this one the project seems to be going from strength to strength. The size of the band is close to that with which Haydn, himself would have been familiar and the use of period instruments brings the listener particularly rich rewards in terms of the resonant sonorities which Haydn almost invariably achieves in a masterly and often witty fashion. Such an approach does, however, generate unavoidable difficulties and, Whilst the all-round standard of ensemble is commendably high, an Achilles heel may sometimes be felt in the slow movements. The Andantino e cantabile of Symphony No. 42 is a case in point, where the predominantly exposed muted violins occasionally fall short of clean intonation. The same applies in the poco adagio of Symphony No. 46 where the upper strings, again muted, just fail to give us that necessary degree of assurance and tonal body; the 6/8 rhythm, on the other hand, is kept admirably and effectively buoyant throughout.

Woodwind and brass or, to be more specific, oboes and horns, carry a particularly heavy responsibility for the success or failure in performance of Haydn's symphonies of this period. By-and-large the standard of executancy is very high and, in the case of the horn playing often spectacularly effective. The slow movement of Symphony No. 51 contains some especially characterful horn-writing whose sonorities are imaginatively realized; only the finale of Symphony No. 46 perhaps just fails to convince us. It's an engaging movement with an extended quotation from the preceding Menuet, but Solomons takes it a little too fast since in several places it is all too evidently a scramble. In the main, though,. his tempos are well judged if erring occasionally a little on the brisk side. Phrasing is effective and I liked Solomon's rhythmic and springy direction which can be heard at its most infectious in the opening Allegro assai of Symphony No. 45.

I have mentioned what seem to me to be one or two general weaknesses in the performances but these apart I find, as in previous issues, a splendid vitality, freshness and sensibility which inspires the music with warmth and colour. The playing seems to go from strength to strength and I would urge anyone unfamiliar with Haydn's symphonies of the late 1760s and early 1770s—and they have all too good a reason—to listen to these performances; the opening movement of Symphony No. 65, for example, brings out the playing at its most positive and assured. Recorded sound is first rate and my pressings were faultless; but it is regrettable that the three-language booklet nowhere contains movement headings except as and when they occur in the context of H. C. Robbins Landon's concise, informative and lively notes. You must turn to the reverse side of the box for a useful summary of those. A rewarding issue and I look forward to future instalments.

-- Gramophone [9/1985]
reviewing this set on LP

Includes notes in English.

Product Description:

  • Release Date: May 30, 2012

  • Catalog Number: SONY 39685

  • UPC: 074643968522

  • Label: Sony

  • Number of Discs: 3

  • Composer: Franz Joseph Haydn

  • Conductor: Derek Solomons

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: L'Estro Armonico