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Hyperion Records

CDH55119 - Haydn: Symphonies Nos 48-50
(Originally issued on CDA66531)
Recording details: Various dates
St Barnabas's Church, North Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Martin Compton
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: October 2002
Total duration: 76 minutes 12 seconds

'If you lack a top-class set of these middle-period symphonies, buy these discs and make good the gap' (Early Music Review)

Symphonies Nos 48-50
Allegro  [10'46]
Adagio  [10'07]
Finale: Allegro  [4'32]
Adagio  [11'16]
Allegro di molto  [6'17]
Menuet  [5'29]
Finale: Presto  [3'03]
Andante moderato  [5'27]
Menuet  [5'03]
Finale: Presto  [5'25]
Haydn spent his first few years at the court of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy (where he was appointed in 1761) taking advantage of his freedom to experiment and develop his symphonic technique. But it was in the works of the late 1760s and early 1770s—the Opus 20 Quartets and some dozen symphonies—that his originality became truly manifest.

Symphony No 49, despite its number, is the earliest of the three recorded here, dating from 1768. It indeed marks something of a watershed in Haydn’s symphonic development, combining a relatively antiquated form—that of the church sonata—with, for its time, a particularly modern emotional content. Its form (resulting in the usual fast first movement and slow movement changing places) and nickname, ‘La Passione’ (‘The Passion’), suggest it was intended for church performance during Lent—probably Good Friday itself—when secular music was largely banished from the court.

Yet, for all its publicly expressed emotion, this symphony (together with the contemporary No 26, similarly a ‘church sonata’-form Passiontide work) has long been recognized as an example of Haydn’s so-called Sturm und Drang (‘storm and stress’) works. The Sturm und Drang movement in German literature was in effect an early manifestation of the romanticism that would dominate European culture during the following century. Its theatrical works did not, however, reach Eszterháza (where they became very popular) for some ten years after Haydn’s series of minor-key works to which the expression stuck, showing how, despite his seeming cultural isolation, he nevertheless managed in an unconscious way to keep ‘in tune’ with the times.

All four movements of ‘La Passione’ are in F minor, the only relief being the Minuet’s F major trio. Within the movements, too, the tonal range is comparatively restricted: the relative major, A flat, is called upon fairly frequently, but otherwise the keys used are only those most closely related to F, such as C, D flat and E flat. The slow yet inexorable tread of the opening movement suggests a vision of the Via Crucis, while the following ‘Allegro di molto’ really seems to take up the cudgels, with violin leaps over hurtling quavers in the oboes and lower strings and a rhythmic drive forever pushing the music onwards. After the stern Minuet, the ‘Presto’ brings to a close one of Haydn’s darkest and most austere symphonies, a work of such—literal—passion that one cannot help but feel the grief expressed is more personal than collective.

Symphonies Nos 48 and 50, however, show no such Angst. They are both festive works in C major—like Bach’s D major, a key Haydn always reserved for his so-called ‘trumpet symphonies’.

No 48, although written in 1769, was used (as were two of Haydn’s operas composed for the occasion, L’infedeltà delusa and the puppet opera Philomen und Baucis) in 1773 to welcome the widowed Empress Maria Theresia to Eszterháza, hence its nickname. And very worthy for an imperial occasion it is, with its pomp and splendour evident from the opening bars. Yet Haydn does not resort to mere fanfare-like formulae to convey a festive spirit—this first movement is in fact particularly complex, with a wealth of different themes, an often wayward sense of tonality, and a vigour to the development section that suggests the Sturm und Drang works are not far away. The F major Adagio is more restrained, with muted violins and more solo opportunities for the oboes and horn. Its structure is a sonata form in its simplest manifestation, with in each half a rather detached theme in decorated quaver movement gradually giving way to the second accompanied by undulating triplet figuration. The Minuet reasserts C major in all its pomp, while the C minor of the trio makes a half-hearted attempt at introducing a little sense of foreboding. The finale, dominated almost throughout by vigorous quaver movement, provides a fitting conclusion to this, one of Haydn’s most unbridled symphonies.

Despite its numerical closeness, Symphony No 50 (1773) was composed some eight or nine symphonies after No 48 and combines elements both older and newer than that particular predecessor. It has—and a relative rarity before the late Paris and London works—a slow introduction, which here clearly derives from the opening slow movement of the sonata da chiesa, an example of which we have already encountered in No 49 (the main part of the first movement is a hectic ‘Allegro di molto’). After the varied orchestration of the slow movements in the other symphonies recorded here, for No 50 Haydn returns to the strings-dominated pattern of his earliest symphonies—indeed the pair of oboes play only the most minor harmonic role and the first violin melody is doubled at the octave by the cellos throughout. The Minuet is novel in the way the trio is embedded motivically and structurally into the main body of the movement with linking passages, while the finale is an earnest ‘Presto’, finished off with a humorous coda.

Matthew Rye © 1991

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