Haydn: "Paris" Symphonies, Nos. 82-87 (CD review)

Frans Bruggen, Orchestra of the 18th Century. Philips 462 111-2 (2-disc set).

I doubt that too many readers have collected all one hundred and four of Haydn's symphonies, or are even vaguely interested in doing so, but certainly the last eighteen, the "Paris" and "London" symphonies, plus assorted earlier pieces might be a part of a well-rounded classical music library. Prior to this 1999 set of "Paris" Symphonies from Frans Bruggen and the Orchestra of the 18th Century, I had been living happily with Sigiswald Kuijken's period-instrument performances of them with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment on Virgin Classics and with Antal Dorati's modern-instrument versions on Decca. Then, along came this newer set to give me pause.

Franz Bruggen's realizations for Philips are every bit as lively and grand as Kuijken's but offer two minor advantages. First, the sound is more immediate, closer to what Kuijken would do later in the "London" Symphonies for Deutsche Harmonia Mundi. The Philips recordings, made live in Paris and the Netherlands, are slightly less vague than the Kuijken's renditions, with added definition and focus. It isn't enough of a difference to recommend a change if one already owns the Kuijken accounts, but for the first-time buyer it may matter. Second, the packaging of the two Bruggen discs uses a single slim-line case, thus occupying less shelf space the older, bulkier Kuijken edition. OK, not much of a consideration these days, to be sure, unless you find yourself with an expanding CD collection and fighting for every inch of space you can find.

Frans Bruggen
Austrian composer Franz Joseph Haydn (1732–1809) wrote his six "Paris" Symphonies in 1786 and 1787, as far as scholars can determine. Paris's prestigious La Loge Olympique, a prominent musical organization of its time, commissioned the works, and Haydn premiered them during their 1787 season. The most immediate hit, which remains my preferred symphony as well, is No. 85, nicknamed "The Queen" because it was a favorite of Marie Antoinette. Each of the symphonies is varied and sometimes elaborate, but they are marked most distinctively by their slow movements.  No. 85 takes its Allegretto from a charming French folk song of the time.

More important, Bruggen's interpretations are first class, perhaps even first choices for those listeners interested in the period-instrument approach. The performances are energetic, stimulating, and engaging. And, of course, Bruggen takes them at a lively pace, as so many historically informed interpretations do. Expect a little less refinement than excitement.

Philips recorded the symphonies live at the Cite de la Musique, Paris, and the Muziekcentrum Enschede and Vredenburg, Ultrecht, The Netherlands in November 1996. The sound is clean, if a tad close, full and well-bodied except in the mid bass where there appears a hint of thinness and only a touch of harshness at times. Generally, it sounds the way you would expect to hear a period-instruments band live, with the same degree of transparency you would find at a live event.


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

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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