The Haydn Year recently saw the passing of the great scholar of the composer and his works, H. C. Robbins Landon.
Haydn, Symphonies (41-47, 50-52, 64, 65, 82-90), Tafelmusik, B. Weil
(re-released on August 18, 2009)
Sony Vivarte 88697480442
Tafelmusik is one of my favorite ensembles, and their performances get high marks in my book, recently in concert at Wolf Trap and in an unforgettable DVD of Purcell's Dido with the Mark Morris Dance Group. It is not there are not other good options for the pre-London Haydn symphonies: we have already recommended some of the early Haydn symphonies as recorded by Ferenc Fricsay, and Harnoncourt's Paris symphonies are brash and strikingly conceived (although they may irritate some ears). Tafelmusik and Bruno Weil struck a middle ground, seeming to take as their starting point that the Haydn symphony was meant as an aural diversion: not that these are lightweight interpretations -- far from it -- but there is rarely a harsh sound to be heard. The historical instruments are handled skilfully, with even the brass and woodwinds played accurately and pleasingly. The tempi dance and flow, rarely sounding pushed too far in either direction, and the intonation and sense of ensemble are admirably true. At just under $6 a disc for a 7-CD set, including all of the Paris Symphonies and a fine selection of the early symphonies from the 1770s (all of them with H. C. Robbins Landon as musicological adviser, by the way), this is a great way to begin a love affair with the Father of the Symphony.