Haydn: Opera Overtures (CD review)

Michael Halasz, Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice. Naxos 8.573488.

Maybe you think of Haydn as I do, as a composer of about 800 symphonies and chamber pieces. No, no, no. He also wrote a slew of operas, most of which we never hear anymore, even though people seemed to love them in their day. Anymore, about all we hear from his operas are the overtures, the present album containing some fourteen of them, ably performed by Michael Halasz and the ambitiously named Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice.

The smallish orchestra, comprised of about thirty or so players, is just the right size for Haydn. We get an intimate, fairly transparent presentation from this size an ensemble. Not so small that that it diminishes the weight Haydn's work but small enough to capture the zest and vigor of his music. Maestro Halasz does a good job keeping them on their toes and ensuring the scores get just treatment.

Anyway, as I say, there are a number of items on the disc--overtures, prologues, introductions, and sinfonias--and for those interested I've listed them below:

Lo Speziale (The Apothecary) (1768)
Acide e Galatea (Acts and Galatea) (1762)
Le pescatrici (The Fisherwomen) (1770)
L'Infedeltà delusa (Infidelity Outwitted) (1773)
Philemon und Baucis (1773)
Der Götterrath (The Diliberations of the Gods) (1773)
L'Incontro improvviso (The Unexpected Encounter) (1775)
Il Mondo della Luna (Life on the Moon) (1777)
L'Isola disabitata (The Uninhabited Island) (1779)
La vera costanza (True Constancy) (1778)
La fedeltà premiata (Fidelity Rewarded) (1781)
Orlando Paladino (Orlando the Paladin) (1782)
Armida (1784)
L'Anima del filosofo, ossia Orfeo ed Euridice (The Soul of the Philosopher, or Orpheus and Eurydice) (1791)

Michael Halasz
I've always suspected it's hard for any conductor to go too far wrong in the scores of Haydn or Mozart or Schubert. The music is simply too delightful. Nevertheless, Maestro Halasz does an extra-special job with it. Although he never takes anything at a breakneck speed, he and his crew do provide a zesty, frothy mixture of notes. The works are lightweight, to be sure, and the listener will probably have a hard time telling one from the other; still, Halasz does his best to differentiate them so it doesn't all sound the same.

Among my own favorites from the album were The Fisherwomen for its vitality; Infidelity Outwitted for echoes of Handel; The Deliberations of the Gods for its relative gravitas; Life on the Moon, just because it's fun; and Orlando the Paladin because of its high spirited nobility. But not to like any of it is to quibble. It's a hearty enjoyment.

Producer Jiri Stilec and engineers Vaclav Roubal and Karel Soukenik recorded the album at The House of Music, Pardubice, Czech Republic in January 2015. If played too loudly, the sound has a tendency to appear rather close; played at a normal (or more realistic) level, however, it's really quite good. There's a nice stereo spread, with uncommonly good depth, and a pleasantly warm, ambient glow. Because there aren't a lot of players involved, the sound is clearer, more lucid, than you might get from a full orchestra, yet the hall's natural bloom prevents the sound from becoming harsh or bright. It's all very natural and welcome.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:

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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.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa