Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphonies Nos. 82–87
Bruno Weil, cond; Tafelmusik Baroque O
TAFELMUSIK TMK1013CD2 (2 CDs: 144:09)
This set, recorded in 1994, is a reissue of two Sony CDs reviewed by John Wiser in
19:2. For these “Paris” Symphonies, the period-instrument group Tafelmusik has a suitably large string section: 8/7/5/4/2. Bruno Weil chooses generally rapid tempos, the playing is crisp and clean, the sounds sweet—this
Toronto-based ensemble plays at a relatively high pitch for period-practice performers. In the notes to this set, H. C. Robbins Landon describes the first movement, Vivace assai, of Symphony No. 82 as “an enormously powerful affair, with thundering fanfares” and says that “The finale (Vivace) returns to the power of the first movement; the development section, in particular, generates an enormous forward drive, and its coda is a brilliant conclusion to this highly masculine symphony.” Weil generates as much power as this medium-sized ensemble can muster, but nowhere near that of Leonard Bernstein’s New York Philharmonic, which uses only a few more strings (
33:2) and was once praised by Landon himself as one of “the great Haydn recordings of all time.” In the finale, some details of the fugal section are obscured by Weil’s hectic tempo. His is a fine performance nevertheless, on a par with that of Sigiswald Kuijken’s Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, whose string complement is only two less than Weil’s, and whose recordings of the “Paris” Symphonies have long been accepted as the standard period-practice set. Kuijken’s slower tempos (8:26 in that Vivace assai, to Weil’s 7: 20, both with full repeats) allow Haydn’s full power to emerge, but the playing is not as crisp as that by either Weil or Bernstein’s forces. Kuijken’s tempos are too slow for my taste; neither he nor Weill takes the Minuet
repeat, and only Weill takes the finale’s second repeat.
This being a reissue, there’s no space for detailed examination of all six performances, but the comparisons made above generally apply to the following five symphonies as well, except that Weil’s tempos are no longer exceptionally fast, and he doesn’t always take finale second repeats. If those performances seem less distinctive, it may be only that the other five symphonies, as fine as they are, are less dramatic and exciting than “The Bear.” Sony’s recorded sound is bright and clean, with fine detail, richer and clearer than that given Kuijken. There is much to like in both period-instrument sets, and Bernstein has been joined by another superb modern-instrument set, Kristjan Järvi leading the Lower Austria Tonkünstler Orchestra on Preiser (
33:4), brilliantly recorded in Vienna’s golden Musikverein. So Haydn’s “Paris” Symphonies are very well covered for all tastes.
FANFARE: James H. North
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