First, the good news: The album provides three Haydn symphonies, one of them fairly well known and two lesser known; and the Oregon Symphony under the direction of its longtime Music Director, Carlos Kalmar perform them competently and professionally.
Now, the bad news. Pentatone chose to record the album live, albeit, thankfully, without applause.
Interestingly, the Oregon Symphony, one of the oldest ensembles in the United States, performed a Haydn symphony on their very first program in 1896. So, one could say they have Haydn in their blood. Certainly, they execute the present three symphonies with polish and poise. If you are a fan of Haydn, a fan of Carlos Kalmar and the Oregon Symphony, a fan of SACD recordings, or a fan in need of the particular works offered on the disc, you could do worse.
With 106 symphonies to his credit, Austrian composer Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) became known as the "Father of the Symphony." Here, we find three of those 106, two of them from his middle period and one from his later period. It's a good combination to show us his versatility.
Haydn wrote the Symphony No. 53 in D Major "The Imperial" in 1777, with at least four different versions of the final movement (only two of which Haydn probably wrote himself). The finale we hear by Kalmar is one reconstructed by Haydn scholar H.C. Robbins. The work was, in its day, among Haydn's most-popular and oft-performed symphonies, and one can see why. It projects a largely cheerful, if somewhat tempestuous feeling, and Maestro Kalmar and his forces provide a lively, lyrical, sunny performance.
The composer finished his Symphony No. 64 in A Major "Tempora Mutantur" by 1775, so it predates No. 53, but given the numbering system, who knows. Haydn gave it its nickname, "Times change," himself. The dating places both Nos. 53 and 64 at the end of the "Sturm and Drang" ("storm and drive," "storm and stress") period, so expect dramatic changes in temperament throughout. But it's the second-movement Largo that probably stands out for its sheer eccentricity. Yet Kalmar does not exaggerate any of the movement's oddities and keeps it moving at a gentle pace, alternating a light, sweet tone with a heavier, more serious one.
The only question I would have with the album is exactly who might want or need it. I suggested in the beginning that fans of Haydn, Kalmar, the Oregon Symphony, or SACD recordings in general might enjoy the disc. But competition in Haydn is intense. Years ago Antal Dorati recorded all of the Haydn symphonies for Decca, and the company has made many of them available separately. What's more, for the sheer joy and delight of Haydn, it's still hard to beat Sir Thomas Beecham (EMI); for energy and fleetness, I enjoy Eugene Jochum (DG), although I believe he did mostly late Haydn; for ultimate grace and refinement, I like Otto Klemperer (EMI); and for a period-instrument approach, La Petite Bande (DHM) is hard to beat. Still and all, there continues room for one more, and Kalmar and his players provide good, solid, straightforward performances. For added pleasure, if you want your Haydn in multichannel, the Pentatone may be one of your few choices.
As with most Pentatone releases, the disc comes in an SACD jewel case, further enclosed in a light-cardboard slipcover. I wish the cover had something on it more elegant than a photo of the conductor, but I suppose we can't have everything.
Producers Job Maarse and Blanton Alspaugh, recording engineer John Newton, and mixing and mastering editor Mark Donahue made the album in 2013 and 2016 live at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland, Oregon. They recorded and mixed it for hybrid SACD multichannel and two-channel playback via an SACD player and two-channel stereo via a regular CD player. I listened in the two-channel SACD mode.
There's no questioning the clarity and immediacy of the recording: It sounds close up and quite transparent. Some orchestral depth appears lost in the process, though. Nor is there much sense of the surrounding hall; that is, little ambiance. Nevertheless, multichannel playback may ameliorate this latter condition, I don't know. In any case, the sound is good enough: clear, clean, wide, and full ranging, with no hardness or undue brightness. It should satisfy even the most discerning listeners.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow: