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: