Haydn: London Symphonies Nos. 99, 101, 100 (SACD review)

Bruno Weil, Cappella Coloniensis. Ars Produktion ARS 38 063 (2-disc set)

People usually know the Symphonies Nos. 93-104 by Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) as the “London” symphonies because Haydn composed them for two trips he took to the city. People occasionally call them the “Salomon” symphonies because the impresario Johann Peter Salomon introduced the composer to London. Haydn wrote the symphonies between 1791 and 1795, Nos. 93 through 98 during his first visit to London and Nos. 99 through 104 in Vienna and London for his second visit. On the hybrid stereo/multichannel SACD under review, Maestro Bruno Weil continues his Haydn “London” series, leading the historically informed ensemble Cappella Coloniensis in the first three of Haydn’s second group of “London” symphonies.

Maestro Weil begins the program with No. 99 in E-flat major, written in Vienna, 1793 and premiered in London the following year. The performance is a pretty good indication of what’s to come on the rest of the disc. As is customary with historical renditions, Weil’s reading features a period-instruments ensemble, which can sound a little different from one using modern instruments, the strings and percussion especially. It’s not that the strings or percussion sound harsh or strident or anything; it’s just that they don’t produce as smooth and plush a sound as modern instruments do.  We also get quick tempos, period bowing, occasionally unique phrasing, and emphatic dynamic contrasts. They add up to a performance that, like the others on the disc, many listeners will enjoy for its lively spirit, and other listeners may find fatiguing. Personally, I found the performance refreshing, but I’m not sure I’d want any of the interpretations on this album to replace some of my old favorites in this repertoire.

Next, Maestro Weil gives us Symphony No. 101 in D-major, commonly known as “The Clock” because of the ticking noise it produces in the second movement. In No. 101 the introduction appears more solemn than ever, even though Weil takes it at a pretty good clip. It reinforces the energetic rhythms of the Presto that follow, though. Then we come to the famous "clock" movement, which seems to tick off the seconds in double time. It takes away a little of the music's charm but replaces it with some delights of its own in that the energy is infectious.

Lastly, Weil conducts the Symphony No. 100 in G-major, nicknamed the “Military” symphony for its use of martial fanfares and percussion. After its premiere, a reviewer of the day wrote that the second movement produced the "hellish roar of war increasing to a climax of horrid sublimity!" Weil probably concludes the disc with this work because it is one of Haydn’s most-popular and most-exciting works, and because the conductor wanted the program to go out with a bang. Or more precisely, a crash, boom, bang. Besides, it’s uncertain in which order Haydn wrote Nos. 100 and 101, so it doesn’t matter much which one comes before the other on a program.

Anyway, in No. 100 Weil goes for broke, with the great outbursts of "Turkish" instruments--cymbals, triangles, drums--punctuating the music as you may never have heard them before. Meanwhile, the rest of the symphony bounces merrily along in a wonderfully vivid, outgoing fashion, making Weil's rendering of the material among the most invigorating you're likely to hear. As I say, not everyone will take to it, but Weil keeps the mood fairly elegant and refined regardless of the fast pace and sometimes clamorous eruptions.

In addition to the three symphonies on the SACD, Ars Produktion include a second disc, a CD, with Maestro Weil giving us explanations of the music. Here, in a little over half an hour, the conductor uses musical excerpts to illustrate various points to his audience about each of the symphonies, and he does so...in German. I kept looking and waiting for English translations, but, alas, I found the second disc rather a loss.

Producer Annette Schumacher and engineers Manfred Schumacher and Martin Rust recorded the music live at Alfried Krup Saal der Philharmonie Essen, Germany, in 2012-2013, and Ars Produktion mastered and transferred it in both two-channel stereo and multichannel to a hybrid SACD with a stereo layer playable on any ordinary CD player. I listened in the two-channel SACD format.

The sound is quite good, if rather close-up in the manner of most live recordings. Despite this closeness, though, there is a moderately sweet ambient bloom present that imparts a decent sense of realism to the event. Definition is also quite good, as is the dynamic impact and the dimensionality of the orchestra. If the booklet hadn't mentioned that the engineers had recorded the music live, I doubt I would have noticed, except between movements where one hears faint audience breathing and feet shuffling. Fortunately, too, the disc’s producers spared us any applause.


To listen to 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 Jon 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 of The $ensible Sound magazine 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 simpleminded, 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 Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. 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 cell phone. 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.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

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