Haydn: Favourite Symphonies (CD review)

Includes Nos. 88, 92, 95, 98, 100, 101, 102, and 104.  Otto Klemperer, Philharmonia and New Philharmonia Orchestras.  EMI 50999 2 15300 2.  (3-disc set)

When you think of Haydn interpreters, conductor Otto Klemperer may not be the first name that springs to mind. One tends to think of Klemperer in terms of grand, large-scale productions, recordings of Beethoven, Brahms, Bruckner, Mahler, Wagner, that kind of thing. Yet he had a felicitous touch with lighter material as well, as his discs of Haydn, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schubert, and Schumann demonstrate. If you haven't heard his Haydn, you're in for a treat.

What's more, if you missed this three-disc set of late Haydn symphonies the first time EMI issued it on CD in the early 1990s, here is your second chance to buy it in a 2008 repackaging. This is big-scale Haydn, generally slow and steady and deliberate, emphasizing the music's architecture rather than displaying the overt jauntiness of, say, a Beecham or the energetic ardor of a period-instruments group. In most cases, Klemperer's Haydn is like listening to the composer with new ears.

Outstanding among the eight symphonies presented in the set are Nos. 88, 101, 102, and 104, with Symphony No. 101 "The Clock" a good example of the best of the Klemperer style. It is an enchantingly beautiful performance, the argument strong and the rhythms feather light. This "Clock" is no modern digital affair, moving without heart or soul, nor is it an old grandfather snoozing laboriously in a corner. This "Clock" is graceful and ornate, all filigree and glass, inviting us to relax and take our time. Likewise do the three other symphonies I mentioned combine refinement and reason in perfect eighteenth-century order. Regarding the symphonies I enjoyed less well, they are perhaps overmuch of a good thing, the conductor trying too hard to make every piece sound like a precursor to Beethoven. But when Klemperer is off, it isn't for lack of trying. I enjoyed these performances immensely, and even his Symphony No. 100 "Military" comes off with unexpected élan.

These interpretations are for people seeking perhaps something a little out of the ordinary, yet the interpretations remain rooted firmly in the classical tradition. The readings are uniquely personal and, as such, variable; but when the music is good, it's worth a hundred of anything else.

Sonically, the discs hold up pretty well, too. The recordings derive from sessions ranging from 1960 to 1971, with little difference among them. They are all full and warm and wide-ranging, with good breadth and detailing. My only minor disappointment is that EMI appear to have used the same 1990 masterings they used for their earlier CD release and don't seem to have remastered the set using their newer Abby Road Technology (ART). Still, it probably doesn't need much further work, and there may not have been much more they could do with it, anyway. The recordings sound just fine.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa