Haydn / Symphonies 59 & 81 – The Best on Record

More of the music of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

More Symphonies 59 & 81


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These are THE BEST HAYDN SYMPHONIES I have ever heard on disc. Folks, until I heard Dorati and the Festival Chamber Orchestra perform these pieces I never knew there could be this much FIRE in Haydn’s music. (Please excuse the pun; the 59th Symphony is entitled “Fire”.)

Mercury bring the kind of recording energy and presence to this music that I have frankly never heard before. Credit must go to both Dorati and his players.

His tempi are fast and sprightly throughout, and the smaller orchestra allows the players to zig and zag with the musical changes much more quickly than would be the case with a larger and more inertia-bound group.

The FCO are so technically proficient and so light on their feet that Dorati was able to push them to dizzying heights of performance. For the first time I can honestly say that Haydn’s music really works — it’s wonderful!

(If you’ve ever heard Previn conducting Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony with the L.A. Phil from 1990 you will know what I mean. In his (their) hands the work is so lively it’s hard to hear it performed by anyone else. Bad digital sound but it’s worth it to hear the piece played with such gusto.)

Dorati and Haydn

As you may know, Dorati recorded all the symphonies of Haydn for London/Decca. Having played some of them I can tell you they certainly do not sound like this! (Perhaps my copies were not the best, but how many copies of these records can be found nowadays? Not enough to do shootouts with, that’s for sure.)

This recording is not your typical dry, bright, nasaly, upper-midrangy Merc, on side one especially. Here the sound is rich and smooth like a good London, with a big stage and lovely transparency. We graded it A++ to A+++ — side two had more texture to the massed strings than this side one, so we downgraded it half a plus. In virtually every other way it was SUPERB!

Side Two

A touch of that Mercury brightness can be heard on this side, but it is well under control at normal listening levels. The strings are textured and lively, the orchestra is just bursting with enthusiam for this music and the recording captures it all! A++ to A+++, again, superb, and priced accordingly.

Wikipedia for Symphony No. 59

The symphony has long been popularly known as the Feuer or Fire symphony. As with most other monikers attached to Haydn’s symphonies, the name itself did not originate with the composer. For a long time, the attributed title was thought to refer to the fiery nature of the composition, particularly the rather unusually spirited first movement (marked Presto, a tempo indication more typical of final movements) and the brief but energetic last movement, which features prominent horn fanfares and corruscating runs on the strings. However, there is nothing particularly distinguishing about any of the movements that would make it more impassioned than other symphonic compositions by Haydn during this period.

The work is in standard four movement form and scored for two oboes, two horns, continuo (bassoon, harpsichord) and strings.

Presto, 4/4 
Andante o piu tosto Allegretto, 3/4 
Menuet e Trio, 3/4 
Finale: Allegro

The opening movement starts off energetically on an upbeat followed by octave drop. Following the initial outburst, the music dramatically relaxes and comes to a full stop. This was a technique he used to an even greater effect in his 48th symphony from about the same time period.[4] The relaxation also appears at the end of the movement giving the listener the quiet curtain raising music that often occurs at the end of an opera overture.[5]

In the slow movement, the winds are silent for most of the movement — leaving the listener to expect that the movement is scored for strings alone. These expectations are quelled when full orchestration enters for the second theme in the recapitulation.[5]

Haydn rarely used the same meter for consecutive movements as he did with the inner two movements in this work. There are melodic links between these movements as well as both start with the same sequence of pitches. The second theme of the slow movement is also alluded to.[5]

The finale begins with a horn call followed by a response in the oboes and at the end of the exposition it is the strings and oboe that have a dialogue. Haydn uses a similar horn call is used to start the finale of his 103rd symphony over twenty-five years later.[5] Following a brief development, the return of the horn call is only hinted at in the strings in the start of the recapitulation which then follows in a relatively straightforward manner. The horn call in its proper instrumentation is saved for the movement coda.[5]

Wikipedia for Symphony No. 81

It is scored for flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns and strings.

Andante, 6/8 
Menuetto and trio: Allegretto, 3/4 
Finale: Allegro ma non troppo, 2/2

In the first and third movements, Haydn explores “ambiguities of tonality … which eventually reach their peak of subtlety” of the first movement of Symphony No. 94.[2] The first movement begins “with an unusual and exciting pedal point … [and] uses a subsidiary subject that appears like a cordial greeting to the newly won friend [Mozart].”[3] The pedals and dissonances point to Mozart’s K. 465.[4]

The second movement is a siciliano theme with three variations.[5] The variations are for the most part strophic and straightforward with the exception of a minor-key interlude in the center of the movement between the first and second variations. The final variation contains the fullest orchestration with pizzicato accompaniment and serves to recapitulate the movement.[6]