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Hyperion Records

CDH55116 - Haydn: Symphonies Nos 22-25
CDH55116
(Originally issued on CDA66536)
Recording details: January 1994
Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: May 2002
Total duration: 73 minutes 37 seconds

'Exhilarating stuff' (The Penguin Guide to Compact Discs)

'Invigorating versions of four early, very attractive symphonies' (Classic CD)

'Une incontestible réussite' (Diapason, France)

Symphonies Nos 22-25
Adagio  [10'18]
Presto  [4'15]
Menuetto  [4'13]
Finale: Presto  [2'53]
Allegro  [5'39]
Andante  [8'35]
Menuetto  [3'41]
Allegro  [5'05]
Adagio  [4'48]
Menuetto  [4'34]
Finale: Allegro  [4'14]
Adagio - Allegro  [6'23]
Menuetto  [3'43]
Presto  [2'51]
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Of the four symphonies on this disc, three, numbers 22 to 24, are known to have been composed in 1764. Haydn spent the early years of his employment in the service of the Esterházy family based almost entirely at their castle in the Burgenland town of Eisenstadt. The completion of the magnificent summer palace of Eszterháza was still a couple of years away: from about 1766, the court’s musical activities would be based there for much of the year. Back in Eisenstadt, Haydn’s original employer Prince Paul Anton had been succeeded by Nikolaus, who became renowned as one of the most culturally enlightened patrons of the late-eighteenth century. He soon set about a complete reorganisation of the court’s musical infrastructure, most notably enlarging the orchestra and employing many of the greatest instrumentalists of the day among its ranks. Here, even in the Prince’s absence, orchestral concerts were held every Tuesday and Saturday afternoon and demanded from Haydn a steady stream of symphonies and other works.

It is remarkable that in composing over a hundred symphonies over roughly a thirty-six-year period, Haydn never took the easy way by resorting to easy formulae or to the Baroque practice of borrowing music from other sources (such as Bach’s purloining from Vivaldi). Thus even in these relatively early works, we find him constantly seeking out new and different solutions to problems of symphonic form and style, deliberately making each new symphony different from the last.

For Symphony No 22, like its predecessor No 21 (the chronology of the symphonies is not always so straightforward), Haydn took as his basis the archaic form of the church sonata. Its distinguishing factor was that it would always begin with a slow movement (the increasingly common slow introduction to the fast first movement of Haydn symphonies—such as No 25—is conceivably derived from this old form). In the case of No 22, this is virtually an orchestral chorale prelude, and its slow, thoughtful tread (the steady quavers in the bass line are maintained virtually throughout) must have been the inspiration behind its apocryphal title ‘The Philosopher’ (the pensive nature of the symphony is also distinguished by its darker orchestral colouring, in which the usual oboes are substituted by a pair of cor anglais). Gradually the muted violins break free from the regular quaver movement and engage in suitably academic sounding counterpoint.

The following Presto is typical of the fast movements of Haydn’s early symphonies, having just one main theme: late-eighteenth-century so-called sonata form would gradually develop its two contrasting main ideas—first and second subject. Here, the music modulates to the expected key, the dominant, B flat, but what it arrives at can hardly be called a ‘theme’ as such, more a transitional idea. The rather austere minuet is tempered by its trio, in which the pairs of wind instruments (by name, at least, horns both ‘French’ and ‘English’) are given their head over discreet string accompaniment. The Presto Finale is typically constructed from the briefest of ideas, a three-note falling scale, heard at the opening and forming the basis of another monothematic sonata movement.

Symphony No 23 is a more traditionally structured four-movement work; the instrumentation, too, is the more conventional set-up of oboes, horns and strings. The opening Allegro is dominated by its opening theme, which sounds almost Handelian with its dotted rhythms. The extended Andante, in C major, is for the strings alone, reduced forces that also have the minuet’s canonic trio to themselves. The Finale is a sonata movement, with Haydn’s favourite ‘hunting’ mode of six-eight rhythms speeded up into a veritable perpetuum mobile, and an early instance of the composer’s humourous bent displaying itself in the surprisingly inauspicious conclusion—the music just fades away into a pianissimo pizzicato chord.

The opening movement of Symphony No 24 is one of the most dramatic in Haydn’s early symphonies. Dismissing the subtleties of crescendos and diminuendos, the score is full of frequent alternations of piano and forte markings, while the development becomes a succession of fortissimo bars concentrating wholly on vigorous movement and chromatic modulation—the recapitulation has to begin in muted form, after a pause, to dissipate this energy.

Throughout his years with the Esterházy family, Haydn liked to give his many distinguished instrumentalists a chance to shine in his symphonies and for the slow movement of No 24 he introduces a cantabile flute solo that, like so many of these instances, could have drifted in from a concerto. The flute returns briefly in the minuet’s trio section, but is otherwise silent—it would be a number of years before the instrument found a permanent place in Haydn’s symphonic orchestra. The Finale returns to the dynamic contrasts of the opening movement.

Symphonies 22 to 24 can be dated accurately from surviving manuscripts, but Symphony No 25 is not so fortunate. It is presumed to date from any time between 1761 and 1765. It is a bit of a hybrid, having a slow introduction to the Allegro that is too brief to be a church sonata opening movement, yet it subsequently has no further slow movement. The Allegro’s thematic writing suggests a date earlier than the aforementioned symphonies, though this may be more Haydn’s response to the key of C major, which was often associated with the more restrictive melodic capabilities of eighteenth-century brass (though he did not introduce trumpets and drums to this work, as he did in some other C major symphonies). Yet there is plenty of melodic variety in the minuet and hectic Presto Finale.

Matthew Rye © 1993


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