Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 102 & 103 (CD review)

Ivor Bolton, Mozarteum Orchestra, Salzburg. Oehms Classics OC 421.

The Mozarteum Orchestra goes all the way back to 1841 when Mozart’s sons and his widow Constanze helped found it. Today, it’s one of Austria’s leading orchestras, represents the city of Salzburg internationally, and plays at the Salzburg Festival. On the present disc, we hear them perform two late-Haydn symphonies with their Chief Conductor since 2004, Ivor Bolton.

Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) was between jobs when the German impresario Johann Salomon approached him to write a series of symphonies for his London orchestra. During two visits to London (1791-92 and 1794-95), Haydn wrote his final twelve symphonies for Salomon, the works known today as Haydn’s “London Symphonies” (although, to be fair, he actually wrote No. 99 in Vienna).

Maestro Bolton begins the album with the Symphony No. 102 in B-flat major, wherein he adopts some zesty speeds while staying well within the bounds of propriety. However, you’ll hear nothing earthshaking or innovative in the performance; the Mozarteum Orchestra is too traditional for that. Still, the realization is energetic enough easily to capture and keep one’s attention, and the orchestra’s playing is immaculate.

Nevertheless, as polished as Bolton’s performance is, there is much one can say about older recordings, and I couldn’t help remembering Eugen Jochum’s memorable DG renditions with members of the London Philharmonic from the early Seventies, renditions that continue to impress me with their never-ending humor and sparkle. What’s more, when you can find Jochum’s entire set of all twelve “London Symphonies” on four discs priced so reasonably, it’s hard to resist. As are issues from Thomas Beecham (EMI), Colin Davis (Philips), Antal Dorati (Decca), La Petite Bande (DHM), Otto Klemperer (EMI), and others.

But none of the competition takes anything away from this Oehms Classics release. Bolton and company provide a clear alternative for listeners seeking a newer, digital experience. Bolton’s performance of No. 102 is a delight, going out with a cheerfully bouncy reading of the final movement.

Up next, we get the Symphony No. 103 in E-flat major, nicknamed the “Drumroll Symphony” for its opening-movement timpani part. It would be Haydn’s next-to-last symphony. Ah, but he went out in grand style, the timpani sounding great in an extended cadenza. Bolton makes the most of the piece, offering up an interpretation of grace and refinement along with an obvious vigor. When Haydn first premiered it, the London audience requested the Andante be played a second time. Bolton’s rendering of it displays its charms in abundance. The Minuet resembles the one in the preceding symphony, if not quite so quick or pronounced; and Bolton’s handling of the Finale is playfully alert.

Recorded in 2011 at Dorothea Porsche Saal, Odeion, Kulturforum Salzburg, Austria, by Oehms Classics, the sound is distinctive--big, wide, full, and close, yet with a moderately good depth of field. The dynamic range and transient impact sound especially strong, giving the sonics a lifelike, front-and-center feeling. The frequency balance comes across quite evenly, with more than adequate bass and reasonably extended highs. More important, there is no edge, no brightness, nor any dullness to the sound. Finally, a modest warmth and a mild degree of resonance accompany the general transparency of a recording that should please even finicky audiophiles.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


No comments:

Post a Comment

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.

Contact Information

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

Readers with impolite, discourteous, bitchy, whining, complaining, nasty, mean-spirited, unhelpful letters may send them to pucciojj@recycle.bin.

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa