HAYDN Symphonies: No. 92, “Oxford1”; No. 94, “Surprise2”; No. 99;2 No. 104, “London2.” SCHUBERT Symphony No. 61. MENDELSSOHN Symphony No. 4, “Italian1”Read more • Josef Krips, cond; 1London SO; 2Vienna PO • DECCA ELOQUENCE 4804331 (2 CDs: 147:13)
The Haydn Symphonies Nos. 94 and 99 were recorded stereophonically in 1957. The remaining items were produced monaurally between 1948 and 1953. Although some of the performances here have had previous release in the U.S., all have been unavailable for many years. Krips’s approach to Haydn is best judged in the context of the era in which they were recorded, specifically just before period practices came into vogue. So viewed, these are unaffected, straightforward accounts featuring what sounds like a medium-sized ensemble, but one small enough to permit textural clarity. Outer movements are fleet but never pushed too hard, slow movements are sometimes more expansive than is customary today, and all first-movement da capos are ignored, the only repeat observed being that in the finale of No.92. In the main these performances lack the nuance of Beecham or the intensity and occasional overdrive of Toscanini. But their freedom from any kind of affectation provides a staying power on repeated hearings, the account of No. 99 being particularly impressive.
From a purely interpretive point of view, the Schubert may be the prize of the set. Buoyant, animated when necessary, yet never pushed too hard in its sensitivity to the music’s underlying lyricism, the performance makes the most of the work, which, to my mind, is not quite the equal of what Schubert had achieved in his preceding symphonies. As the earliest (1948) of the recordings featured, it is also the poorest sonically: colorless in its lack of upper frequencies and cramped in its studio deadness. But it remains more than listenable and benefits from seamless side joins of the original 78s. The Mendelssohn (from 1953) offers fine mono sound and may well appeal to those who have found the widely admired approaches of Koussevitsky, Toscanini, and Szell too hard-driven. Krips brings a more relaxed lyricism to the score without ever becoming ponderous. My one objection to the performance is his failure to observe the da capo in the initial movement. Its inclusion is essential in that it contains a first ending of the exposition having thematic material that does not recur until the movement’s coda. Without the repeat, that material comes as an odd digression, emerging, as it were, out of nowhere.
A final word about the production: The insert booklet is far more inclusive and informative than is usual for a reissue of this sort, the extensive notes by Tully Potter being especially informative. And however one may feel about these performances, Eloquence’s revival of them is still another tribute to the label’s willingness to keep once-widely admired recordings from being forgotten. Save for the sonic shortcomings cited in the Schubert Sixth, the sound throughout exemplifies the best to be had for the time of the source.