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JOSEPH HAYDN Symphony Nos. 88 in G major (1786), 89 in F major (1787), Overtures: Acide e Galatea (1762), Lo speziale (1768), L'incontro improviso (1775)Chamber Philharmonic of Bohemia conducted by Douglas BostockClassicO CLASSCD236



These Haydn symphonies are the first two of a group of five which were composed between the 'Paris' symphonies and the 'London' symphonies and are typical of the mature Haydn genre - characteristically full of life and humour. No 88 is a firm favourite of the regular orchestral repertoire; No 89 is, however, only rarely performed - undeservedly so because it is every bit as full of invention and imagination.

Performances of Haydn's operas are likewise so infrequent as to constitute an endangered species, overshadowed as they are by the mighty works of Mozart. It is particularly welcome then, to have recordings of these bouncy and entrancing overtures - a reminder of just how much first-class Haydn remains out of view.

Performers of 18th Century music are always faced with the problem: whether to take advantage of the greater sonority and tonal robustness of 20th Century instruments, or whether to seek to stimulate an 'authentic' 18th Century sound with period instruments and harpsichord continuo. Both solutions can work brilliantly when sensitively applied. It is important however, to go for one or the other; hybrids just do not work. For all its virtues, this recording falls uncomfortably between two stools. The 21-strong string band (7+6+4+3+1) of the Chamber Philharmonic of Bohemia provides a perfect balance with the woodwind, brass and percussion. However the overall effect is that of a chamber orchestra trying to sound like a full symphony orchestra. The harpsichord continuo is thus reduced to a background tinkle, (much of the time almost inaudible) and an irrelevance in this context. Nevertheless, there is much of joy and delight in these performance.

It is pleasing to note that Douglas Bostock avoids the temptation to take the allegro and vivace movements at ridiculously rushed tempi. A fault of some interpreters of 18th Century music is to show off their technical skill to other professional musicians at the expense of sensitivity to the composer's intentions and giving their audience a good time. With one notable exception, Bostock hits tempi that are innately 'just right' making the music, by turns, moving and exhilarating rather than merely pleasant. The exception is the slow movement of Symphony No.88 where the tempo is a plodding crotchet=60 instead of the usual crotchet=80 to 85; the phrasing all but falls apart and the flow is lost.

Reservations apart, these are highly worthwhile recordings and merit a place in anyone's collection - specially that of a Haydn specialist.


Humphrey Smith


Humphrey Smith

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