Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 31, 70 & 101 (SACD review)

Robin Ticciati, Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Linn Records CKD 500.

The possible advantages of this disc: First, Maestro Robin Ticciati and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra play three symphonies by Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1909) from three periods in the man's life: early, middle, and late, giving the listener a useful overview of Haydn's developing output. Second, Linn Records provides another excellent-sounding album.

The possible disadvantages: First, Ticciati chooses to play each of the symphonies in something approaching historical accuracy, yet the orchestra performs on modern instruments. The combination may seem a tad disconcerting for some listeners. Second, Ticciati doesn't appear to display any discernable difference in playing style among the three symphonies even though they span a period of about thirty years. You would think that maybe as Haydn's style evolved, the playing practice might, too.

Anyway, things begin with the Symphony No. 31 in D major, which Haydn wrote in 1765 for his patron Nikolaus Esterházy. It acquired the nickname "Hornsignal" because it provides the horn section a rather large role in the proceedings. I really wasn't familiar with No. 31 (I hadn't heard Dorati's version in decades), but under Ticciati it sounds fresh, chipper, and alive. The Adagio is especially lovely, taken at a steady, enlivening gait that never indulges in sentimentality. And so it goes with a light, lilting flow throughout.

Next is the Symphony No. 70 in D major from 1779, written to commemorate the construction of a new opera house on Prince Esterhazy's property. Although it is not among Haydn's most-memorable symphonies, it does feature the composer's usual complement of pleasing harmonies. No. 70 starts out in a veritable storm of sounds, which Ticciati handles with ease, although the relatively small size of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra rather diminishes the overall effect. Yes, it sounds a tad underpowered compared to other renditions I've heard. Nevertheless, Ticciati again maintains a good forward pulse, and the movements proceed fluidly one to the next. He particularly handles the playful finale with dexterity.

Robin Ticciati
The final piece on the program is the Symphony No. 101 in D major, composed around 1793-94 while Haydn was visiting London for the second time. It got the nickname "The Clock" because the ticking rhythms in the second-movement Andante remind people of the movement of the second hand in a loudly ticking clock. Unfortunately, under Ticciati's direction "The Clock" seems little different from the preceding selections. While one still easily recognizes the music, it appears to me a touch too lightweight. And then comes the famous clock movement. Oh, dear. Ticciati sounds as though he's taking it at double speed; it's faster than any of the half dozen comparisons I had on hand, including one done on period instruments. Not that it doesn't still sound good--exciting, in fact--it's that it doesn't appear to me what Haydn intended: An Andante should be moderately slow, not speedy. Oh, well; at the very least, Ticciati's interpretation makes a solid alternative view.

Producer and engineer Philip Hobbs recorded the symphonies at Usher Hall, Edinburgh, UK in January and February 2015. He made the recording for hybrid SACD playback, so you can listen in multichannel or two-channel SACD if you have an SACD player and regular two-channel stereo if you have only a standard CD player.

In the two-channel SACD mode to which I listened, the sound appears warm and clear, with a good sense of depth and dimensionality. As this is a Linn recording, there is nothing hard, bright, compartmentalized, or close-up about the sonics. It just sounds natural and dynamic, with a sold timpani response and a mild hall resonance providing a realistic ambient bloom.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

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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.

Contact Information

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