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Hyperion Records

CDS44371/4 - Haydn: The London Symphonies
The Thames at Westminster by William James (1730-1780)
Private Collection / Bridgeman Art Library, London

Recording details: Various dates
Auditorio Stelio Molo, Lugano, Switzerland
Produced by Ben Connellan
Engineered by Michael Rast
Release date: February 2009
Total duration: 296 minutes 42 seconds


'The Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana is finely honed and the rapport is evident, with unfailingly fine and musicianly playing' (Gramophone)

'Performances of the symphonies that are ultra-clean, pleasingly joyous and straightforwardly entertaining' (Classic FM Magazine)

'The orchestra is very well caught by the engineers, with ample bloom and no unnecessary or false highlighting of instruments. There is an excellent booklet by the ever-reliable Haydn expert Richard Wigmore and, best of all, Hyperion are offering the set at budget price, a little over £20.00 for four discs. I also like the fact that the works are all laid out in numbered order across the discs, unlike Bruggen and Davis, where the sequence is split up for some reason. The Davis cycle is cheaper and still an obvious rival but the sound is not as rich or detailed, and the Bruggen appears unavailable at present. It is a very crowded market but I reckon Hyperion deserve to do well with this one' (MusicWeb International)

'Sa splendide intégrale des Londoniennes … ces interprétations dégagent une extraordinaire vitalité' (Le Monde de la Musique, France)

The London Symphonies
Largo cantabile  [5'34]
Andante  [6'07]
Allegro moderato  [6'23]
Finale: Vivace  [3'55]
Andante  [5'54]
Finale: Vivace  [3'22]
Adagio  [4'58]
Finale: Presto  [8'14]
Adagio  [8'24]
Finale: Vivace  [4'29]
Allegretto  [5'51]
Finale: Presto  [5'20]
Andante  [7'02]
Finale: Vivace  [4'39]
Largo – Vivace  [8'02]
Adagio  [5'20]
Finale: Presto  [4'29]
Andante  [7'40]

In 2009, the music world around the globe will commemorate the 200th anniversary of the death of Joseph Haydn. On Hyperion, Howard Shelley and his stylish continental orchestra present the symphonies that made Haydn the most famous and popular composer alive in the 1790s. These are Haydn’s most glittering, worldly symphonies, and listening to them as a set one can sense the exhiliarating milieu in which they were written. These new recordings, featuring high class performances, excellent recorded sound and illuminating booklet notes at a budget price, are the perfect way to experience the joy and splendour of these works.

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
There had been plans to lure Haydn to England years before he arrived with the violinist-cum-impresario Johann Peter Salomon on New Year’s Day 1791. In January 1785 The Gazetteer & New Daily Advertiser even suggested that ‘some aspiring youths’ should kidnap the composer to free him from what it described as ‘a place little better than a dungeon, subject to the domineering spirit of a petty Lord, and the clamorous temper of a scolding wife’. Dungeon or not, Haydn’s secluded life as Kapellmeister to Prince Nikolaus Esterházy had hardly prepared him for the feverish musical and social activity of the English capital, where he was immediately lionized by the social and musical elite, including the royal family. As he reported to his friend and confidante Maria Anna von Genzinger a week after his arrival in London: ‘Everyone wants to know me. I had to dine out six times up to now, and if I wanted I could have an invitation every day; but first I must consider my health, and second my work. Except for the nobility, I admit no callers till 2 in the afternoon.’

Haydn’s fame in England, as in France, was based above all on his symphonies from the 1770s and 1780s, with No 53, the obscurely nicknamed ‘L’Impériale’, a particular favourite; and the main part of his lucrative deal with Salomon was the composition of six new symphonies (Nos 93–98) over two seasons, for which he would receive £300—equal to approximately £25,000 today. These, and the six symphonies he composed during his second London sojourn of 1794–5, build on the fusion of the ‘popular’ and ‘learned’ styles that Haydn had perfected in his symphonies and string quartets of the 1780s. While Haydn is now less inclined to eccentricity, his melodies become more spacious and more catchy (most of the sonata movements contain a distinct, tuneful ‘second subject’), his forms still freer, his modulations even bolder. Inspired, too, by the substantial London forces (numbering around forty in 1791–2 and 1794, and over sixty in 1795), Haydn’s treatment of the orchestra outdoes even the works written for Paris in colour and panache. These are his most glittering, worldly symphonies, reflecting the exhilarating milieu in which they were written and Haydn’s determination to impress a broad public. Yet, except perhaps for Nos 95 and 96, they are more searchingly argued than all but a handful of his earlier works. More, perhaps, than any instrumental music before or since, the ‘London’ symphonies encapsulated and flattered their listeners’ ‘taste’ (an eighteenth-century buzzword) and understanding, while increasingly expanding and challenging them. Together with the greatest symphonies of the 1780s (foremost among them Nos 82, 86, 88 and 92), they are the consummation of what Charles Rosen, in his great book The Classical Style, has called ‘heroic pastoral’: not only for their rustic trios and quasi-folk melodies (actual folk tunes in Nos 103 and 104), but for ‘that combination of sophisticated irony and surface innocence that is so much part of the pastoral genre’.

Pace the traditional numbering, the first two ‘London’ symphonies were Nos 95 and 96, premiered at Salomon’s Friday evening concerts in the Hanover Square Rooms (which seated around 500) in April or early May 1791.

Haydn began symphonies Nos 93 and 94 in the summer of 1791 while staying at the country estate, near Hertford, of the merchant banker Nathaniel Brassey and his family. During the 1791 season he had had time to study English taste; and both works are broader in scale and bolder in their arguments than Nos 95 and 96. Even more than the two earlier works, both symphonies were designed to appeal to his London audience’s penchant for spectacular, sometimes ironic contrasts between the comical and/or naïve and what the political philosopher and aesthetician Edmund Burke called ‘the sublime’.

After a relatively tranquil Viennese interval of eighteen months, during which he gave intermittent lessons to the young Beethoven, Haydn arrived in London, some days behind schedule, for his second visit on 4 February 1794. He had concluded a new agreement with Salomon to provide symphonies and six string quartets for the 1794 season; and in his trunk were the quartets later published as Op 71 and Op 74, one newly completed symphony, No 99, plus two more in progress, Nos 100 and 101.

At the end of the 1794 season Salomon was forced to suspend his concerts in the Hanover Square Rooms because the war with France was making it impossible to engage ‘vocal performers of the first talents from abroad’. For the following season he merged with the new Opera Concert under the direction of violinist-composer Giovanni Battista Viotti at the King’s Theatre Haymarket. Haydn agreed to write three more symphonies for Viotti’s 1795 concert series, Nos 102–104.

Richard Wigmore © 2009

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