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Haydn: Tafelmusik's Symphonies

The Haydn Year recently saw the passing of the great scholar of the composer and his works, H. C. Robbins Landon.

available at Amazon
Haydn, Symphonies (41-47, 50-52, 64, 65, 82-90), Tafelmusik, B. Weil

(re-released on August 18, 2009)
Sony Vivarte 88697480442
7h 31'23"
Sony's re-release of Georg Szell's recording of Haydn's early London symphonies, with the Cleveland Orchestra, already got high marks from Jens this year. Sony has also finally gotten around to re-releasing, as a box set on its Vivarte label, the early Haydn symphony recordings made on period instruments by Tafelmusik in the 1990s, the era in which the Toronto-based HIP ensemble and its principal guest conductor, Bruno Weil, racked up several awards for their Haydn collaborations. Of course, what one hears of the Haydn symphonies for the most part are the later ones he composed for his visits to London, but fine recordings like these ones make a persuasive case for the many earlier symphonies that are unfairly neglected. (Scans of H. C. Robbins Landon's editions of the lion's share of the Haydn symphonies are available at the invaluable IMSLP but unfortunately are tied up in copyright disputes for American users.)

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.

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