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Hyperion Records

LSO0702 - Haydn: Symphonies Nos 92-3 & 97-9
Recording details: Various dates
Barbican, London, United Kingdom
Produced by James Mallinson
Engineered by Neil Hutchinson & Jonathan Stokes
Release date: July 2014
Total duration: 132 minutes 54 seconds

'All of these symphonies' expressive strength and rigour, their invention and mastery of form, are laid bare in these revelatory performances which confirm for all time Sir Colin's reputation as a pre-eminent interpreter of Haydn's music. He doesn't hold back and relishes the warmth of Haydn's sound world' (Classic FM)

'Sir Colin Davis was famously disinterested in the historically informed school of Haydn, yet there’s so much tender affection for the music and appreciation of its wit and imagination as you just heard, that despite some stately tempi these performances are richly rewarding' (BBC CD Review)

‘The recorded sound is excellent, and final applause has been removed. This is a release to treasure for great music and magnificent readings of it (and one doesn't forget Sir Colin's previous Haydn Symphonies, like tulips, from Amsterdam) … and the front cover is quite striking in a feel-good way. Believe me, a couple of hours spent in the company of “Papa” Haydn and with a conductor who tapped so perceptively and benevolently into this imaginative and indestructible music (and which is so adaptable to a devoted and without-dogma approach, as here) makes the World a better place’ ( » More

Symphonies Nos 92-3 & 97-9
Adagio cantabile  [7'28]
Presto  [6'06]
Largo cantabile  [5'34]
Adagio  [6'30]
Finale: Presto  [6'41]
Adagio  [9'26]
Finale: Vivace  [4'54]

The late Sir Colin Davis and the London Symphony Orchestra present a collection of Haydn’s expressive and resplendent London Symphonies alongside the spirited and melodic Oxford Symphony.

Sir Colin Davis was long recognized as a pre-eminent Haydn interpreter. During his Indian summer with the orchestra he recorded both Die Schöpfung (The Creation) and Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons) for LSO Live. The symphonies presented here were recorded in 2011 during this same period, and make for revelatory listening.

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Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Most general histories of music emphasise Joseph Haydn’s achievements as a composer of instrumental works, a pioneer of the string quartet genre and the so-called ‘father of the symphony’. In short, he was one of the most versatile and influential composers of his age.

After early training as a choirboy at Vienna’s St Stephen’s Cathedral and a period as a freelance musician, Haydn became Kapellmeister to Count Morzin in Vienna and subsequently to the music-loving and wealthy Esterházy family at their magnificent but isolated estate at Eszterháza, the ‘Hungarian Versailles’. Here he wrote a vast number of solo instrumental and chamber pieces, Masses, motets, concertos and symphonies, besides at least two dozen stage works. In old age Haydn fashioned several of his greatest works, the oratorios The Creation and The Seasons, his six Op 76 String Quartets and his so-called ‘London Symphonies’ prominent among them. ‘I am forced to remain at home—It is indeed sad always to be a slave, but Providence wills it thus,’ he wrote in June 1790. Haydn was by now tired of the routine of being a musician in service. He envied his young friend Mozart’s apparent freedom in Vienna, but was resigned to remaining at Eszterháza Castle. The death of Prince Nikolaus prompted unexpected and rapid changes in Haydn’s circumstances. His son and heir, Prince Anton, cared little for what he regarded as the lavish and extravagant indulgence of music. He dismissed all but a few instrumentalists and retained the nominal services of Haydn, who became a free agent again and returned to Vienna.

Haydn was enticed to England by the impresario Johann Peter Salomon, attracting considerable newspaper coverage and enthusiastic audiences to hear his new works for London. Back in Vienna, Haydn, the son of a master wheelwright, was fêted by society and honoured by the imperial city’s musical institutions.

Symphony No 92 in G major ‘Oxford’ (1789)
The compositional circumstances of Haydn’s last 23 symphonies were very different from those of their 80-odd predecessors, most of which had been written primarily for local performance at the court of his employer, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy. The 1780s saw the composer’s international fame and popularity rise to new heights, and after a Parisian concert society known as the Concert de la Loge Olympique commissioned a set of six symphonies from him in 1785, his subsequent examples were all written for foreign consumption.

The ‘Paris’ Symphonies (Nos 82–87) were an enormous success, even for a composer who was already one of the most frequently represented in the French capital’s busy concert life. Surpassing the high standards already set by his previous symphonies, their expressive strength and inventive mastery of form gave his international reputation a substantial boost, and further commissions quickly followed. Haydn’s next five symphonies were all composed for Paris, with Nos 90–92 probably being a repeat commission from the Loge Olympique, and they can therefore be seen as a supplement to the original ‘Paris’ set, cut from the same rich cloth. No 92, composed in 1789, seems to breathe a more ambitious air yet, however, as if in anticipation of the broader scale of the great ‘London’ symphonies to come (Nos 93–104); and indeed it was this symphony that Haydn took with him on his first visit to England in 1791, and had performed at a concert at the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford in July to mark his receipt of an honorary doctorate.

The main body of the first movement features a principal theme which is tiny but punches well above its weight. Presented softly and ‘off-key’ immediately after a slow and sinuously melancholy introduction, it is just four bars of down-and-up scale-figures, yet it and its characteristic rhythm dominate the movement, not least in the form of the numerous ingenious contrapuntal workings which set off the central development section.

The slow movement features a radiant, hymn-like tune which, after a noisy middle section in the minor has subsided, reappears in extended and developed form. Woodwind colourings contribute substantially to the richness of this movement, and take on more prominence as it progresses. The Menuetto is grand but graceful, enclosing a Trio, which, with poker face, tries to trick the ear with off-beat accents, and the symphony closes with a sonata-form Presto of uncommon brilliance; if Haydn intended its sparkling instrumental colours to dazzle its first audiences in Paris, perhaps as he packed his bags for England he also smiled to himself to think how its shots of contrapuntal mastery, so lightly worn, might satisfy the Handel-steeped dons in the Sheldonian.

Symphony No 93 in D major (1791)
The death of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy in 1790 brought an important change in the life of his court music director, Joseph Haydn. Haydn had served the Esterházys for nearly thirty years, and, now approaching his sixties, had scarcely ventured outside the fifty-mile triangle between the Prince’s Viennese residence and his country palaces at Eisenstadt and Eszterháza. Nikolaus’s successor Anton did not share his father’s enthusiasm for music, however, and disbanded the court music, retaining Haydn only in a titular capacity. It was now, as public eagerness to see the man acknowledged as the greatest living composer grew ever stronger, that the London-based impresario Johann Peter Salomon took the opportunity to engage Haydn for a residency at his concert series in Hanover Square. By early 1791 Haydn was in England and being fêted in a way that he could never have imagined back home. The adventure, which lasted until the summer of 1792 and was followed by a second visit in 1794–5, had a rejuvenating effect that was to fuel his creative powers not only while he was here, but for the next decade as well.

Central to Haydn’s fame in England were his twelve ‘London’ symphonies (Nos 93–104); state-of-the-art examples of the genre which found a new gestural breadth and revelled in the sonorities of Salomon’s large orchestra. A distinctly popular element was also calculated to appeal; ever since Handel, the English had wanted their music to be grand and sublime, but they also liked it plain-speaking and attractive. Haydn in his genius gave them all of these. Symphony No 93, though misleadingly numbered first in the series, was in fact the third to be composed (Nos 96 and 95 came before it), set down during the summer of 1791 after Haydn’s first London season had given him the opportunity to sample the English taste at first hand. Its premiere came at the start of the second season on 17 February 1792.

Like all his late symphonies it starts with a slow introduction, in this case a harmonically rich one leading to an Allegro assai main body of the movement, which builds impressive strength from a pair of initially lilting and quiet themes. The slow movement is a set of five subtly unfolding variations on a halting theme presented at the outset by a string quartet; whether the curiously rude ‘bassoon moment’ which occurs near the end was specifically calculated to appeal to English listeners is uncertain. A vigorous and vividly scored Minuet follows, with a central Trio in which winds and strings are in good-humoured and witty opposition, and the symphony ends with a Finale whose sustained energy, resourcefulness and colour seem to delight in never doing quite what you expect.

Symphony No 97 in C major (1792)
Symphony No 97 was the last symphony to be heard during Haydn’s first London visit; its premiere taking place in early May 1792. Like most of his late symphonies, it begins with a slow introduction, in this case one that is short, restrained and rather beautiful. At first this Adagio may seem to have little connection with the noisy and assertive character of the main, Vivace part of the movement, but it is worth noting how much its short descending scale figure reappears in both the fast section’s festive-sounding first theme and its waltz-like second.

The slow second movement is a set of three freely unfolding variations on a pleasant, song-like theme; the middle variation takes a serious, minor-key turn, and an air of mild melancholy lingers over the remainder of the movement, not least in an exquisite coda. The Minuet has a well-furnished and ceremonial feel—though one within which Haydn plays cheekily with alternations of staccato and legato articulation—and encloses a central Trio which seems to want to yodel. The symphony concludes with a typically dashing but effortlessly witty finale.

Symphony No 98 in B flat major (1792)
‘I am Salomon of London, and have come to fetch you.’ With this blunt proposal the violinist and impresario Johann Peter Salomon realized a long-cherished ambition of bringing Europe’s most famous composer to England. For nearly two decades, Haydn’s works had sold so well that publishers had found it possible to market almost anything with his name on it, while in London and Paris, the two major centres of public concert-giving, hardly an evening of orchestral music seemed to go by without one of his symphonies appearing on the programme. This was despite the fact that he had never ventured outside Austria, but in 1790 his circumstances changed: Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, his appreciative patron, died, and his expensive court musical establishment was swiftly disbanded by his successor. Haydn was kept on as Kapellmeister, but only in a titular capacity, and suddenly, at the age of 58, he was effectively a free agent. It was this development which gave Salomon his chance; in December 1790 the two men left Vienna and on New Year’s Day they were in England.

Central to Haydn’s fame in London were the twelve symphonies (Nos 93–104) that he wrote for the concerts Salomon directed at the Hanover Square Rooms, all of them showing unmatched technical assurance and gestural breadth combined with a wealth of appealing detail and a joy in the grand sonorities and colourings of Salomon’s large orchestra. Such qualities are certainly evident in Symphony No 98, premiered during Haydn’s second London season on 2 March 1792. Like almost all of Haydn’s late symphonies, it opens with a slow introduction, in this case a rather severe minor-key one scored for strings alone. Its theme is then taken up in the main body of the movement, initially transferred to the major and lightened up as its first theme, and then as the driving force for a vigorous, contrapuntal development section. A hymn-like theme, which may or may not be deliberately hinting at ‘God Save the King’, sets the slow movement on its solemn course; some commentators have seen its emotional depth and sensuous scoring as a reminiscence of the equivalent movement in Mozart’s ‘Jupiter’ Symphony, and with it the possibility of a hommage to the younger composer, who had died at the end of 1791. The Minuet is grand, rapid and boisterous, with a bouncing country dance for a central trio, and the symphony ends with a skittish but also discursive finale in which, in a typical act of friendly playfulness, Haydn introduces instrumental solos for violin (Salomon) and harpsichord (himself).

Symphony No 99 in E flat major (1793)
Symphony No 99—composed back home in in Vienna and first heard at the start of the 1794 London season—is the first Haydn symphony to require clarinets, and the added grandeur they bring is apparent right from the big chords of the first movement’s opening. As in most of Haydn’s late symphonies, this is an imposing and probing slow introduction, but the main part of the movement is full of drive and energetic bonhomie, with a leaning, lilting second subject that is used to push the music in a number of directions throughout the central development section and again after its formal recapitulation.

The G major Adagio has been called by the 20th-century analyst Donald Tovey ‘one of Haydn’s most majestic things’, and includes some exquisite writing for the woodwind, not just in their exchanges with the strings but also in a passage of warmly throbbing accompaniment towards the end. The Menuet has the boisterous, get-on-with-it quality (as well as some of the off-beat accents) of an early Beethoven scherzo, and is coupled with a Trio whose strangely disconnected feel owes much to its being in the unexpected key of C major. The symphony ends with a boisterous sonata-rondo, featuring some typically Haydnesque whimsy from the woodwind.

Lindsay Kemp © 2014

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