August 27, 2009


Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 60 (“Il Distratto”), 88 and 96 (“Miracle”). Mozarteumorchester Salzburg conducted by Ivor Bolton. Oehms. $16.99.

Haydn: Eight Concertos for Harpsichord, Fortepiano and Organ. Christine Schornsheim, harpsichord, fortepiano and organ; Neue Düsseldorfer Hofmusik. Capriccio. $16.99 (2 CDs).

Haydn: Five Sonatas for Violin and Fortepiano. Alberto Bologni, violin; Giuseppe F. Modugno, fortepiano. Concerto. $16.99.

     Haydn was, in retrospect, more of a symphonic composer than anything else – although his contribution to the string quartet, which he essentially created, should not be minimized. Surprisingly, until recent years, only a relatively few of his 106 symphonies (including the early ones designated “A” and “B”) were frequently performed, and those were mostly the ones with jovial titles that Haydn did not necessarily assign to them (“Clock,” “London,” “Drum Roll,” and so on). Recent re-exploration of Haydn has led to a greater willingness to perform his less-known symphonic works, and that in turn has led to some outstanding releases, including Ivor Bolton’s version of Nos. 60, 88 and 96. These are bright, bouncy, thoroughly idiomatic performances that do an especially good job of capturing Haydn’s wit and elegance. No. 60, “Il Distratto,” is a six-movement gem assembled by Haydn from incidental music he wrote for the play that gives the symphony its title. It is full of theatricality, including unexpected pianissimo passages, a required retuning by the strings during one movement, and an accelerando written before that term had found its way into music and which may be the first of its kind. No. 88, despite its lack of a title, is well known and is one of Haydn’s most typical mature creations, full of lovely melodies, with a peasant rhythm in its Menuetto and a genuinely creative contrapuntal finale. No. 96 is called the “Miracle” because it was thought to have been played at a concert where a falling chandelier miraculously caused no injuries – and the title has stuck even since the discovery that the symphony actually played at that event was No. 102 (which remains without a title). In any case, No. 96 is a wonderful example of Haydn’s “London” writing, more elaborate and on a larger scale than much of what he had composed before.

     The latter part of the Andante of No. 96 sounds a great deal like a solo concerto, but in fact Haydn composed far less in concerto format than in other musical forms, perhaps because he was not himself a virtuoso on any particular instrument. A few examples of his comparatively modest output have become deservedly popular, and now there is a recording that effectively argues that more of them deserve to be heard with greater frequency. It is Christine Schornsheim’s remarkable performance of eight keyboard concertos (Nos. 1-5, 8, 10 and 11) on three different instruments: harpsichord (Nos. 2, 3 and 5), organ (Nos. 1, 8 and 10), and fortepiano (Nos. 4 and 11). Schornsheim is not only amazingly adaptable to the very different demands of these three solo instruments, but also very skilled in Haydn’s style with all of them. The correct instrument to use in a particular concerto is not always clear and must often be inferred based on the work’s technical demands (a piece unplayable on the organs of Haydn’s time was clearly not written for them). Haydn himself seems to have had different thoughts on the works at different times: No. 1, for example, is noted as being for organ on the autograph copy, but when Haydn made his own catalogue of works some years later, he designated it for “clavicembalo” (harpsichord). The lack of certainty gives performers quite a few choices about handling these works; the quality of Schornsheim’s playing argues strongly for the selections she has made. And the accompaniment by the players of Neue Düsseldorfer Hofmusik is exemplary.

     Even less known than Haydn’s concertos are his violin-and-piano sonatas – in fact, in the standard catalogue of Haydn’s works (known as the Hoboken catalogue), not a single one appears. But there are in fact five authentic Haydn violin-and-piano sonatas, two of which (Hob.XV: 31 and 32) have been catalogued as Trios (because in Haydn’s time, a cello would sometimes be used as an added instrument) and three of which (Hob. XVa: 1, 2 and 3) are in Baroque style but with a clear Haydn flavor. Historical issues aside, all five works are minor but interesting Haydn, showing him moving past Baroque forms harmonically and rhythmically while still adhering to an older structure for the works as a whole. This is a particularly intriguing recording for Haydn fanciers seeking something off the beaten path, since the works are quite unfamiliar. And they are beautifully played on instruments dating to or close to Haydn’s time: Alberto Bologni uses a 1734 Santo Serafino violin, while Giuseppe F. Modugno performs on an 1815 fortepiano by Johann Schantz.

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