Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players. 3321840.az_HAYDN_Symphonies_93_95.html
Symphonies: No. 93; No. 95; No. 96
Bruno Weil, cond; Cappella Coloniensis (period instruments)
38 061 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 63:12). Live: Essen 10/24–26/2008
Examples from the symphonies with German-language explications by Bruno Weil
Cappella Coloniensis is a rather large period-instrument ensemble dating to 1954. Its strings are 8/8/3/4/4 (double basses), playing at a pitch close to that of modern ensembles. These are fine, friendly performances with plenty of guts; Weil has a lighter touch than Abbado or Bernstein, and his performances show more insight and feeling for Haydn than those by Hickox. That is not to say that they are superior to the others, however; each of those shows superior individual characteristics—Abbado’s, accuracy and bite; Bernstein’s, joyous freedom and imagination, Hickox’s and Chandos’s, vibrant sound—which are not matched here. But such strengths can also lead to, or at least are allied with, weaknesses: Abbado’s impatience and lack of wit, Bernstein’s exaggerations, and the paradoxical blandness that goes with Hickox’s gorgeous sound. I wouldn’t part with any of those recordings (well, each is unsuccessful with one or more symphonies), but I am equally happy listening to Weil’s Haydn, which might be considered a period-instrument version of Colin Davis’s, except that Davis’s Concertgebouw is an even finer orchestra. The playing here is excellent; it suffers only in comparison to the very best.
Every Haydn symphony has its unexpected moment, some particular, memorable twist. No. 93 has its flatulent bassoon joke in the Andante, the “Miracle” has its piquant high oboe that opens the Menuet’s Trio (to which the supposedly conservative Haitink added a trumpet on the repeat). The C-Minor Symphony has a lovely one: the entire Trio is a cello solo, rolling up and down the scale, accompanied by pizzicatos from the other strings; at one moment, the first violins offer a brief
response. The effect has never been lovelier than on this disc, a deep, sturdy cello answered by the sweetest violins. The entire Symphony, one that is usually overshadowed by its mates, is wonderful here, its C-Major finale bursting with trumpets and drums. No. 93 is excellent except for a much-too-fast Largo cantabile—we need to be lulled, in order to be more surprised by the bassoon joke. The Menuetto is gorgeous, fast and bracing, and the five measures of flute chirping have seldom rung so true. I often wince at the thin, wiry tone of German oboes; Weil’s are round and full, colorful yet able to cut through the ensemble when needed.
The live recordings are good ones; instruments shine and balances are exemplary. Only the violins are a touch dull; a slight confusion in
tutti could be the ensemble, the hall, or the recorded sound. SACD makes subtle changes: violins have greater sheen, but reverberation has grown, further confusing those tutti. Yet the acoustic is lighter, airier than on the CD. Surround sound, surprisingly, quells the excess reverberation without compromising anything else; it is definitely the way to hear these performances. The bonus CD has many minutes of music (from these recordings), as Weil explains his searches—beyond the score—for the essential Haydn; for example, a letter the composer wrote about the finale of Symphony No. 96. The talk is in German, so I relied on another’s language talents for enlightenment. I don’t hesitate to recommend this issue as a prime way to hear period-instrument “London” Symphonies, with or without surround sound.
FANFARE: James H. North