Bernstein conducts Haydn: London Symphonies

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Reviews of some of the original recordings that make up this set" "let’s not kid ourselves: there was no finer 20th century Haydn conductor than...
Reviews of some of the original recordings that make up this set"

"let’s not kid ourselves: there was no finer 20th century Haydn conductor than Leonard Bernstein. He has the same affinity for the composer that he did for Mahler: the music’s energy, humor, and sheer emotional range played to the conductor’s strengths, and no amount of foolishness about “period this” or “authentic that” can diminish idiomatic results that penetrate far deeper into the music’s expressive essence than issues of performance practice ever can."

-- David Hurwitz,

"The competition is strong in the “London” symphonies, but Bernstein’s performances of Haydn are always among the most intriguing, the most dynamic and intense. The “Surprise” Symphony’s opening Vivace assai is played slowly, with a unique gravitas, a seemingly odd approach that—through some Bernstein magic—produces a tender, sensitive result. The surprise chord in the Andante doesn’t sneak up on us; it is just plain ff. The repeated ff chords in the rest of the movement thunder with a towering rage, and the Menuet stomps heavily. The Allegro di molto finale boils along at terrific pace, bursting with joy. This is a wildly unconventional performance of this warhorse, yet one that thrills and satisfies.

Max Goberman recorded a superb No. 98, including the violin/cembalo duet in the finale, but his Vienna State Opera Orchestra (like Scherchen’s, third-string leftovers from the Vienna Philharmonic) cannot match the New Yorkers’ power and panache. This “Military” is a lovely performance, with especially enticing wind solos; the Janissary music (triangle, cymbals, bass drum) is not overplayed, as with Scherchen. The triangle rings its own miniature cadenza in the finale’s penultimate measure. The Andante of “The Clock” ticks sweetly and gently, interrupted by thundering fortissimos. Trumpets are prominent throughout the performance, so the wrong-note joke in the (very slow) Menuet’s Trio jars the ear as never before—or since. No.102, perhaps Haydn’s greatest symphony, receives it finest performance, beginning with an almost motionless Largo and ending with a lightning-fast, spectacularly executed Presto. "

-- James H. North, Fanfare

At least one of these performances (No. 104) goes back to the Fifties, and the Paris Symphonies came out about a quarter-of-a-century ago. For some reason they caused a tremendous row in the New York press when they were issued. Part of it was my defending the performances (in a magazine called High Fidelity), saying among other things that Bernstein had gone to great pains to get his trills right, ie in strict tempo and starting on the upper note. In those days, a lot of snobs did not take Bernstein seriously – how wrong they were. Bernstein has a natural affinity for Haydn, though some of his tempi will be judged too slow: first movements of Nos. 82, 93 and 98 (an old legacy from Sir Thomas Beecham, especially in the case of No. 82), the intolerably slow minuets of some works (eg Nos. 93 and 101, also a Beecham legacy but not much better in the Karajan/Berlin Philharmonic recordings), and the slow movement of The Clock (No. 101). But when Bernstein gets it right, it is glorious. The slow movement of the Surprise (No. 94) is nowadays taken far too quickly: it is only andante, not allegretto, and Bernstein’s reading is poetic and masculine, by turns. The first movement of the great C minor Symphony No. 95 is the best reading of it that I know – listen to that hair-raising timpani part at the end: it is extraordinary, as is the ferociously slow Minuet in the same work. And while on the subject of timpani, there are splendid timpani solos in the Minuet of No. 97, the slow movement of which is also a revelation – note the careful adherence to Haydn’s markings of ‘ponticello’, on the bridge of the violins, a nasty, spiky sound which must have stunned London in 1792. If you want one perfect Haydn/Bernstein sampler, try the finale of No. 99 in E flat, the first time Haydn ever used clarinets in a symphony. The tempo and the pace are perfect. And what civilised works these are: witty, profound, dramatic, touching – there is something for everybody in them.

-- H.C. Robbins Landon, BBC Music Magazine

Product Description:

  • Release Date: January 01, 2014

  • UPC: 886919917628

  • Catalog Number: 88691991762

  • Label: Sony

  • Number of Discs: 5

  • Composer: Franz Joseph Haydn

  • Conductor: Leonard Bernstein

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: New York Philharmonic

  • Performer: Leonard Bernstein