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:


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa