Feature CD Review – Haydn The Complete Symphonies/Antal Dorati

Written by: Colin Anderson [review posted 18 March 2009]


Symphonies 1-104

Symphony ‘A’ in B flat

Symphony ‘B’ in B flat

Sinfonia concertante in B flat

Symphony No.22 in E flat (Philosopher) [Second version]

Symphony No.53 in D (L’impériale) [Alternative endings A, C and D]

Symphony No.63 in C (La Roxelane) [First version]

Symphony No.103 in E flat (Drum Roll) [Alternative ending]

Philharmonia Hungarica

Antal Dorati

Recorded 1970-1972 in St Bonifatius Kirche, Marl

DECCA 478 1221 (33 CDs)

It’s good to welcome back “a special limited edition” of Antal Dorati’s Complete Haydn Symphonies. Max Goberman had tried and failed (he died) some years earlier and Ernst Märzendorfer’s set is roughly contemporaneous with Dorati’s. There have been later traversals, on ‘period’ and modern instruments, and all will be worth investigating for the Haydn connoisseur. But Dorati’s has a general acceptance that keeps it very much in high profile. One can quibble individual details, find a movement too fast or too slow, question ‘authenticity’ (although Haydn guru H. C. Robbins Landon was no doubt on hand to advise on editorial matters). It’s a shame that for its latest incarnation that the booklet has no notes beyond movement indications and disc and track details.

Still, the music speaks for itself. And what music! Haydn (2009 is the bi-centenary of his death) – his genius is laid bare in his symphonies (and string quartets, keyboard sonatas, piano trios … less so the operas, Dorati recorded those, too). Each one has something of interest, an arresting moment of innovation. Haydn’s limitless fund of ideas doesn’t stop there; it’s what he does with them as well. Not every symphony is on the same exalted level, but being without any one would be a loss. Hence a complete cycle is irresistible. So many moods, much depth, and so much song and dance

Not surprisingly, those symphonies with nicknames tend to be the best-known – Clock, Drum Roll, Mourning, Farewell, Maria Theresia, Fire, Schoolmaster, The Bear, The Hen, Oxford, Surprise, Miracle, Military. There are others not blessed with epithets that are just as good!

Dorati’s set also includes two additional symphonies – A and B! – as well as some fascinating appendices. The performances have a pleasing consistency of style and each work is taken on its own terms. Further consistency is offered by the same orchestra playing in the same location (even if the recorded sound is variable).

Nevertheless, there is much to delight and enlighten here. Enjoy!

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