The six symphonies
Haydn composed for the Loge Olympique in Paris aren’t as
well known as the two sets of six he later wrote for London
but they’re very varied, inventive and well represented
on CD. The original Paris Orchestra was a big band but,
in the vanguard of the fashion of recent years, Barenboim’s
set uses a chamber orchestra, as do the performances with
which I shall be comparing it. Even the two most fully scored
symphonies, 82 and 86, are known also to have been played
by Haydn’s chamber orchestra at Eszterhaza and size is less
of an issue provided the recording is sufficiently immediate.
This set gets off
to a lively start with Symphony 82. Straight into a Vivace
assai, which Barenboim does make it, with sforzandi at
tr. 1 1:05 as lightly glancing blows. The second theme at 1:29
is by contrast melodious and graceful, with a bassoon drone
which is like a foretaste of The Bear of the work’s nickname
which enters in the finale. But there’s no let-up of pace and
soon plenty of further opportunity for wildly rushing strings.
A winsome passage from 7:03 for strings alone just before the
final onslaught is rather smudged over but trumpets and timpani
come nicely to the fore at the end. As throughout in the outer
movements of these symphonies, Barenboim observes the exposition
repeat but not the second half repeat. To do so would bring
a better balance, as achieved by the 2001-2 Vienna Concentus
Musicus/Nikolaus Harnoncourt recording on DHM, but as well as
being full price Harnoncourt takes three CDs.
movement is rightly not very slow, a fair Allegretto with
a jocular swagger about it and a finely balanced sound by conductor
and engineers. The dynamic contrasts are suavely underplayed.
The variations where the key changes from F major to F minor
(tr. 2 1:44, 4:18) are appropriately sterner and tighter. Thereafter
things move with such ease and charm you might find yourself
lolling until the neat observation of quirky appoggiaturas from
6:37 in violins, flutes and oboes give it some spice, a signal
for everything to become more alert and chirpy to round off.
The singing style is well realized.
does show its age at the beginning of the Minuet which would
not be introduced so massively today, but the oboe solo at the
end of its first strain is thereby all the cheekier and the
repetitions are lighter. The Trio has a sunny ease before it
becomes more courtly yet never loses its graceful quality. The
creamy individuality of the wind playing is gorgeous without
ever becoming indulgent.
The finale lacks
nothing in vibrancy. I’m convinced those high violins’ appoggiaturas
screeching for attention (tr. 4 0:30) were adapted by Bernard
Herrmann only slightly more discordantly for the stabbing in
the shower in Psycho. Barenboim gives us a merrily cavorting
dancing bear and the proceedings have an exciting, headlong
quality. A pity about the tame timpani at 5:20. They’re marked
fortissimo and should make you sit up.
The recording has
a warm bass, glowing treble and is pleasantly balanced. By today’s
standards it’s a touch opaque and abrasive in the closely recorded
strings in the louder passages but the vertical texture is good.
Even at superbudget
price Barenboim has competition. I compared the Austro-Hungarian
Haydn Orchestra/Adam Fischer (Regis RRC 2044), recorded in 1992
in the airier acoustic of the Haydnsaal at the Eszterhazy Palace.
Fischer begins with a more emphatic bounce and momentum, but
his quieter moments have elegance. With sheenier strings he
brings a fresher but also frostier feel to the music, with more
rhythmic insistency in the first movement. Barenboim’s characterization
throughout is lighter and his contours smoother. He’s still
alert but less tense. He doesn’t showcase the second theme as
much in its own right.
Here are the comparative
more generous slow movement that marks the difference. Here
Fischer is neater, more sharply pointed with definite but refined
shaping and careful attention to the lower strings’ contributions.
His first variation in the minor is starker, with stronger dynamic
contrasts, his climax more rhetorical in its celebration. Barenboim
has more charm with a softer, more relaxed focus and smoother
contours. He’s also more emotive, more old-fashioned yet endearingly
so, the first minor variation having a touch of pathos.
is still broad but tempered by swinging pointing. In the Trio
he uses solo strings which brings a homelier, more chamber music
feel. Barenboim’s Trio uses full strings but his smoother phrasing
exudes more charm. Fischer’s finale is all jollity, celebration,
excitement and momentum. Barenboim’s opening is lighter and
he’s brightly stylish throughout, simply but effectively conveying
joy in the music-making, not quite as tense as Fischer yet with
a more concentrated development.
Symphony 83 begins
in Barenboim’s hands as a forthright storm in G minor. But the
dotted-quaver/semiquaver rhythm, established as an element of
the tension as early as the second bar, is subverted by Haydn
as the accompaniment (tr. 1 1:21) to the skittish appoggiaturas
through which the second theme, the clucking Hen of its nickname,
is presented in B flat major. Barenboim makes the transformation
smooth but the development rigorous; progression is all.
In a slow Andante
Barenboim goes for warmth, compassion and affecting expression.
His Minuet is also very relaxed for Allegretto yet pleasingly
suave, its Trio courteously pointed if a little somnolent. The
finale by contrast gets up a fair head of steam.
For this symphony
I compared Barenboim’s other superbudget rival, the Orchestra
of the Age of Enlightenment/Sigiswald Kuijken (Virgin Classics
5 61659 2) recorded in 1989. The notable differences here from
an orchestra of period instruments are a string sound of more
steel as well as sheen and a more pearly flute topping.
Here are the comparative
|| 6:08 [3:59]
the first movement in more measured paragraphs, to more trim
effect but with less angst. As a result the transformation to
the second theme is less marked and Kuijken’s hen goes about
her business more nonchalantly. Barenboim shows enjoyment in
observing her and a more kinetic quality to the entire proceedings.
Kuijken’s development is one of inexorable logic; Barenboim
gets more emotively involved.
Kuijken’s slow movement
has the effortless grace of a sunnier, more flowing and singing
line than Barenboim’s. His slower overall time is because he
makes the exposition repeat which Barenboim for this movement
omits. Kuijken’s comparative time without the repeat is given
in brackets above. Irrespective of the repeat Kuijken convinces
me this is how this movement should be played as all its changing
moods, with bold contrasts of dynamic, fit in his de luxe
Barenboim is beautiful
at the start but too romantic, something of a study in slow
motion in terms of line so you’re more aware of the structure
and harmonies. He doesn’t square the contrasts so well, which
may explain why he underplays them. All the same, Barenboim
is more enchanting in the rising scales from tr. 6 4:30 alternating
between first violins and flutes at the end of the development,
bringing moments of both tenderness and hope.
is pacy yet stylish, with dynamic contrasts a key element. With
Barenboim’s relaxation comes that slow motion feeling again,
but also emphasis on curvaceousness. His Trio is welcomingly
homely and of kindly demeanour.
is light, eager and irrepressible, yet with a piquant development.
His providing the second half repeat comes as a surprise. Barenboim
isn’t as sophisticated, rather more innocently skipping, but
throws himself into it for all he’s worth. The result’s refreshing.
Symphony 84 begins
with a slow introduction which is expressive as well as stately,
though Barenboim’s loud contrasts are rather heavily applied.
However, in the Allegro he shows a dainty progress from flute
and strings with jolly full orchestra refrains and thereafter
catches the movement’s mercurial character well. The slow movement
is warm and affectionate but Barenboim seems at first uncomfortable
with the theme’s sforzandi, rather thickly applied. He’s much
happier when he gets to the gossamer smooth relaxation of the
second variation where the sforzandi have a more successful
lighter touch when the theme appears in the cellos and basses.
The more forthright following variation and peaceful close are
The heart of the
Minuet and Trio, the quizzically whimsical first violins’ descents
near the end of both, with the other strings added in the Trio,
are well spotlit albeit the Minuet is a steadyish, business-like
Allegretto. Similarly the liveliness of the finale is of a troubled,
resolute variety, with more of a thinking stance than the usual
Haydn exuberance. The close is an affirmative “we will rejoice”
but Barenboim makes you wonder, in spite of what?
Here are the comparative
Fischer judges the
weight of the first movement introduction better. By being slightly
broader (1:36 against Barenboim’s 1:28) he provides more breathing
space so the loud interjections don’t sound perfunctory but
part of the overall contrast of mood which is to pervade the
movement. His Allegro, however, as can be seen from the overall
timing of the movement, has more vivacity, especially when the
running quavers kick in, the emphasis on thrust. Here Barenboim
goes rather for sweetness while his more prominent wind contributions,
especially the horns, make for a contrasting robustness. His
dappled dynamic shading is also more sensitive and a joy, e.g.
the sudden silky softness of the strings in the development
at tr. 9 5:34 at the beginning of an extended passage of musing.
glancing sforzandi are more effective in the presentation of
the theme of the slow movement but I prefer Barenboim’s sufficiently
stark but less vigorously dramatic approach to the first variation
(tr. 10 1:30) where the key has changed from B flat major to
minor. I also like the expressive way he points a mock swoon
by the strings in the second section. His second variation (2:53)
has a spring-like reviving quality about it and his third (4:15)
goes with a summery swing and you can see the progression. Fischer
is straightforwardly sweet yet alert in the second and bracing
in the third variation. In the coda (5:37) it’s Barenboim who
has more breadth and poise this time and a lovely hushed strings
has more bite and sturdiness whereas Barenboim’s laid-back approach
offers more wistful descending violins towards the close where
Fischer relies on style and sheen. Fischer’s Trio has a solo
violin to match the doubling bassoon; Barenboim uses full strings
but with relaxed, smooth patina. Fischer provides a spirited
finale with dashing light strings’ semiquaver runs and the development
crisply dispatched. Barenboim is quieter, going for style rather
than excitement and, as in the first movement, revealing the
wind contributions to better effect. He also points up more
vividly the mysterious soft strings’ passages, the first at
tr. 12 0:53, where a shadow briefly passes over the proceedings.
In the same light his development bring the angst to the fore.
Symphony 85 is nicknamed
The Queen because it was Marie-Antoinette’s favourite.
So what might she especially have liked? I’d suggest the beguiling,
rather coy, first theme of the first movement after its majestic,
commanding introduction but before its swashbuckling continuation.
Or maybe she liked the crafted simplicity of much of the rest
of the symphony, the way the slow movement starts and ends in
homely fashion, or the lovely interlude in the Trio where two
solo oboes, flute and bassoon echo one another in turn, or the
jolly and sunny finale. She’d have found Barenboim a sure guide
in all these matters but the sound she would have heard would
be like Kuijken’s period instruments.
Here are the comparative
movement introduction, bright and incisive, with a timing of
0:45, is far less dramatically imposing than Barenboim’s 0:59.
Kuijken’s first theme is suave and later sinuously delivered
by the solo oboe. Yet Barenboim is feminine and sleek, with
more strongly contrasted adjacent material and a more tense,
potentially tragic second theme (cd 2 tr. 1 2:00) until dispelled
by the charming return of the first theme on the oboe. In the
quieter passages of the development Kuijken soothes in a kind
of reverie. Barenboim continues to seek a resolution and thereby
conjures a balmy sense of relief at the first theme’s subtle
but safe return (6:43). Kuijken’s extended timing is the result
of a second half repeat. For comparison I have put in brackets
above his timing without that repeat.
movement is pacier, a true Allegretto where Kuijken adopts more
of an Andante. This makes the presentation of the theme more
benign and lilting but Barenboim’s progression through the variations
is more cogent. He finds more surprise in the sudden loud passage
for the second half of the first variation (tr. 2 1:32). His
second variation in the minor (2:47) is more lugubrious: you
may prefer the merely wistful Kuijken. But Barenboim’s spotlit
flute in the third variation (4:27), while still soft and smooth,
has more impact than the comparatively cowed Kuijken. Similarly
Barenboim’s bassoon, doubling the first violins is warmer in
the final variation (5:53).
Kuijken is also
on the slow side for the Allegretto Minuet but quickens slightly
for a merrier Trio and a Minuet return with more kick. Barenboim’s
Minuet is stodgier still, which makes the sforzandi rather gawky
and the violins’ semiquavers less playful than Kuijken’s. But
Barenboim’s Trio is agreeably rustic, aided by the pizzicato
string bass. Those gorgeous woodwind echoes can then linger
is deliciously light and gently scintillating, even in the more
piquant development. Barenboim’s heavier orchestral body can’t
achieve this lightness, though his articulation is clear and
the effect jovial enough.
Symphony 86 is the
most striking of the set in its zing. Of this Barenboim brings
a keen awareness and special zest. Its extended introduction
begins idyllically but continues grandly and dramatically before
a really dashing Allegro spiritoso, the same marking
for the effervescent finale. But the slow movement, entitled
Capriccio is the most original in its intently measured,
broad-breathed mood-painting with inspired flashes of rhetoric
and contrast. The extended second strain of the Minuet similarly
becomes more thoughtfully detailed before a homely Trio in which
the bassoon’s doubling of the first violins is varied by flute
and oboes, the latter partly in duet this time.
Here are the comparative
is more effective than Fischer’s because it’s more of an Adagio,
as marked, taking 1:43 against Fischer’s 1:12. He has more sweetness
in his strings, especially at the opening, then more majesty
and dramatic contrast. Fischer goes for a sheeny opening and
then grandeur and penetrating sonority whose pace anticipates
the Allegro about to burst. In this he contrasts insistent energetic
bite with lustrous lyricism. Barenboim’s Allegro doesn’t initially
have Fischer’s brio. He’s more concerned with clarity and the
allure of the full version of the first theme from tr. 5 2:41.
But there’s a real edge to his exposition repeat and much later
a gloriously impactful entry of trumpets and horns at 7:54 followed
at 8:13 by six crashing chords which sound like a model for
To one of Haydn’s
most searching slow movements the soft-grained focus of Barenboim’s
recording and the humane, quiet emotive strings are well suited.
He finds breathing space for reflection and expressive intensity,
yet the movement still flows and its telling shifts of harmony
are brought out well. The fortissimo climax at tr. 6 3:33 is
a fleeting but inevitable outburst of the feeling that’s all
around. Fischer is less satisfying because instead of Barenboim’s
sorrow within an appreciation of beauty he offers an edgy, sheeny
seriousness where everything is emphatically signalled. Consequently
his climax seems calculated.
has more bite and swagger than Fischer’s purposeful stolidity.
Barenboim’s treatment of its thoughtful phase from tr. 7 0:45,
recalls the previous movement’s mood but without any stalling
and is more effective than Fischer. His Trio’s homeliness has
a comely innocence about it, though Fischer here brings out
a yielding quality in his folksiness.
the finale a twinklingly light opening on strings alone before
an explosion of exuberant festivity from full orchestra. There’s
the pleasing contrast of a gracious second theme at tr. 8 0:57
and everything sweeps along with satisfying inevitability. Fischer
is more robust but equally thrilling in sheer momentum and with
an elegantly contrasted second theme.
Symphony 87 gets
straight into its breezy animation without introduction; its
bright sonority seems bathed in light. Its themes transform
from the assertive to the lyrical, yet are sufficiently closely
related that it doesn’t really become clear until the development
that there are effectively four of them. The first starts the
movement, the second is a distinctive new phase at tr. 9 0:28,
the third resumes the mood of the first even more brightly at
0:56 and the fourth is a bit of fun with first violins’ miniature
rising and falling scales at 1:11. Another piece of Haydn trickery
is the almost three bars’ silence he puts at 4:46 just before
the end of the development, as if to say “Have you thought about
The slow movement
has a warm, benevolent theme that’s hospitable to embellishment,
especially from the woodwind; but ornament is an intrinsic part
of its expression. Swirling figures of rhythm and decoration
also head the Minuet. The Trio is carried by solo oboe athletically
rising to a penetrating top E, shortly after which comes another
Haydn reflective silence at tr. 11 2:48, this time of nearly
two bars. The finale is all adept vivacity which Haydn relishes
calming whenever he wants. And Barenboim is fully engaged with
all the twists and turns.
Here are the comparative
|| 6:23 [4:22]
In the first
movement Kuijken’s sforzandi are neater and dynamic contrasts
sharper than Barenboim’s. In going for clarity rather than
sweep he lacks Barenboim’s more winning excitement and sense
of fun. I also prefer Barenboim’s winking simplicity in
the fourth theme to Kuijken’s more sophisticated winsomeness.
I’d be surprised
if there’s a finer performance than Barenboim’s of the slow
movement. There’s an incandescence about his innate feeling
for its breadth while still maintaining momentum and wonderfully
glowing woodwind solos matched with sentient strings. In
comparison Kuijken seems cold as ice in his objectivity.
Minuet has a robust, open-air quality but perhaps overdoes
the steadiness. On the other hand this points up the more
shadowy, thoughtful aspects of the second strain and allows
for a poised Trio. Kuijken is neater but arguably over-refined
and his Trio dispassionate. To the finale Kuijken similarly
brings more lustre but I prefer Barenboim’s greater eagerness,
excitement and contrasted moments of repose. Kuijken’s tempo
is a little faster, as indicated in brackets by the exact
timing in comparison with Barenboim. His stated timing is
slower because, unlike Barenboim, he makes the second half
booklet notes are those by Peter Avis replicated from EMI’s
1996 reissue of Yehudi Menuhin’s Paris cycle. They draw
extensively and judiciously on the writing of H.C. Robbins
Landon and retain the 1996 misprint describing Symphony
84 as “elegant and suberbly constructed”.
To sum up, all
three super-budget recordings of Haydn’s Paris symphonies
have their own strengths and weaknesses but offer good value.
I hope I’ve indicated some strengths and weaknesses of Fischer
and Kuijken above. But, to be more specific about Barenboim
under review, his key strength is his ability to identify
with the energy, warmth, humour and variety of Haydn. I’d
say he does this better than either Fischer or Kuijken.
Another significant strength is the excellence of the English
Chamber Orchestra’s brilliant attacking and also, when required,
refined string playing, its potent brass and the beautifully
poised distinctiveness of its woodwind.
The chief weakness
of this Barenboim set is an analogue recording that’s not
as clear, airy or refined as its more recent rivals. If
you’re sensitive to sound quality this could be a problem.
On the other hand, you’re less likely to be aware of it
just listening to this recording on its own and not comparing
it immediately with pure digital ones. Another weakness,
again partly owing to the time of the recording, is Barenboim’s
somewhat heavy approach to Minuets. Elsewhere it might be
said he’s more romantic than later accounts, but I feel
that’s to his advantage in presenting a more rounded view
of these symphonies. He can excite, he can charm, but he
can also move. And it’s clear he can see the whole picture,
which is perhaps his greatest strength of all.