Exploring The Haydn Symphonies: Nos. 77.78.79
It is only recently that Joseph Haydn's (1732-1809) symphonies have begun to receive the attention they deserve. The CD under review here is part of a complete recording of the Haydn symphonies performed by several different orchestras and conductors. The performances on this CD are by the Northern Chamber Orchestra led by Nicholas Ward. This orchestra is a small ensemble (24 musicians) that performs without a conductor. Mr. Ward leads the ensemble while playing first violin. The performances are idiomatic, well-nuanced and crisp. They give the listener an excellent sense of Haydn.
The three symphonies on this CD, No. 77, 78, and 79, were composed between 1782 and 1784, with the first two written in anticipation of a projected trip to London which, at the time, did not materialize. The symphonies are each scored for strings, oboe, bassoon, and French horn. These three works, which resemble each other in many ways, also show Haydn's inventiveness and originality, with each work having its own character.
Symphony No. 77 in B-flat major is a short work in a galant mode. The work is on the whole pastel-colored with little in the way of bravura or solo passages. But is full of musical creativity. The opening movement, vivace, features a lively initial theme and a short, flowing second subject. Near the end of the movement, Haydn varies his material significantly, leading up to an outstanding suspended passage and a vigorous close. The second movement, andante sostenuto, is a quiet, slightly melancholy theme that lies in the middle strings with passages for winds as the movement progresses. The minuet is short and lively with an angular theme in the strings backed by the winds. The finale, marked allegro spirituoso, is based on a delightful, lively theme that reminds me of folksong -- or perhaps a country dance.
Almost all works by classical composers in the minor key are worthy of note, and Haydn's symphony no. 78 in C minor is no exception. The first movement of this work, vivace, is full of tumult and passion, based on its minor theme. It reminds me of the Mozart C minor piano concerto, K. 491. The structure of this movement is unusual in that each section of the sonata form, the exposition, development, and recapitulation, is repeated. The second movement, adagio, is in marked contrast to the opening movement with a serene, flowing theme. The minuet is stately, and in the major key. The trio contrasts with the minuet in that the theme is short and whimsical. The finale, presto, opens in an angular, somber C minor but doesn't stay there. After contrasting passages between the major and minor keys, it concludes in a joyous, triumphant C major.
The final work on this CD, the symphony No. 79 in F major is a quietly appealing work again in a galant style. The opening movement features contrasting loud and soft passages, a flowing opening theme, and bassoons in the background. The second movement, marked adagio cantabilie-Un poco allegro is the heart of this work. The opening section is a quiet slow theme, repeated several times with different combinations of instruments. Near the end of the movement, the tempo suddenly changes and the movement closes with a skipping, dancing quick theme in the strings. It is an outstanding movement, with unity in its apparent diversity. The minuet has a theme stated in the strings with wind echo. The trio is complimentary, rather than contrasting. The finale, vivace, is a quickly-paced rondo with a theme that gets freer and more unbuttoned as the movement draws to its close.
This CD will appeal to lovers of early classical music who want to explore Haydn's relatively little-known symphonies in all their appeal and variety. The budget price is an added attraction.