Haydn: London Symphonies Nos 93, 94 & 95 / Kuijken

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Kuijken offers a searching performance of No. 95 and affectionate treatments of 93 and 94. La Petite Bande strings play with crispness, precision and virtuosity, while the winds, beautifully tuned and blended, produce a round, cultivated sonority.

Hot on the heels of Goodman's readings of these three symphonies with the Hanover Band comes this rival period-instrument version from Kuijken and his Dutch orchestra. Though Goodman drives too hard in the first movement and minuet of No. 95, his performances score high in drama and physical excitement, playing up the music's often flamboyant contrasts of texture and dynamics. If Kuijken's readings lack something of Goodman's earthy exuberance, they have the edge in refinement and security of rhythm and ensemble. The strings of La Petite Bande eclipse even those of the Hanover in crispness, precision and sheer virtuosity; and the Dutch wind, beautifully tuned and blended, produce a rounder, more cultivated sonority—compare, for instance, the two performances at the opening of the Surprise.

In the two major-key symphonies Kuijken is airier and more elegant, with smoother, shapelier phrasing and less bellicose accents, as you can immediately hear in the triple-time opening movement of No. 93. And the minuets are more lilting less sheerly aggressive than with Goodman. I like the touch of gravity Kuijken brings to the Andante of the Surprise, though he is surprisingly fast in the Largo cantabile of No. 93, over-stressing the music's march background—there is no tenderness in the opening melody, and the climactic sequence of modulations from bar 48 (2'32" ff) needs more space to make its full expressive effect.

With a more ample tempo and broader phrasing Kuijken makes better sense than Goodman of the opening movement of No. 95, finding a certain troubled grandeur where the Hanover Band can seem merely choleric; and Kuijken's more measured reading of the minuet reveals the music's tragic implications more fully than the headstrong Hyperion performance. But the C major finale with its brilliant fugal writing, gains particularly from the bolder, brassier tuttis of Goodman's performance, and from his division of the violins left and right. Here and elsewhere on the new disc horns, trumpets and, especially, timpani are over-recessed, so that climaxes do not always blaze and thunder as they should—and invariably do on the rival version.

Otherwise I have no complaints about the recording, which combines warmth with transparency of detail (woodwind lines always clearly etched against the strings in heavily scored passages). Both versions, incidentally, use a keyboard continuo, not really necessary (or to my mind particularly desirable) in these richly scored works: Goodman directs from the fortepiano, as Haydn himself did in London, while Kuijken prefers a harpsichord, sometimes barely audible.

I should certainly not want to be without Goodman's forceful, high-octane readings of Nos. 93 and 94: but if I had to choose a single period version of these symphonies my vote would go, just, to Kuijken, not only for his more searching performance of No. 95 but because I suspect his subtler, more poised and (the Largo of No. 93 apart) more affectionate treatment of the major-key symphonies will wear better on repeated hearings.

-- Richard Wigmore, Gramophone [10/1993]

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: DHM77275

  • UPC: 054727727528

  • Label: RCA

  • Composer: Franz Joseph Haydn

  • Conductor: Sigiswald Kuijken

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: La Petite Bande