Feature CD Review: The Symphonies of Haydn – Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Max Goberman [Sony Classical]

Written by: Antony Hodgson

45 Symphonies & 3 Overtures
Vienna State Opera Orchestra
New York Sinfonietta*
Max Goberman

The Library of Recorded Masterpieces, made between 1960 and 1962 in Vienna
SONY CLASSICAL 88843073942 (14 CDs)
14 hours 11 minutes
Reviewed March 2015

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Sony Classical, Joseph Haydn – The Symphonies – Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Max Goberman, 14 CDs

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The American conductor Max Goberman (born in Philadelphia in 1911 and who died on the final day of 1962) was a brilliant musician and a notable musicologist. He was a violin pupil of Leopold Auer and subsequently he joined the Philadelphia Orchestra. He studied conducting with Fritz Reiner and his first known recording was of the eight William Boyce Symphonies: this was in 1938.
I regard him, together with Karl Haas, as being among the earliest of 20th-century experts in 18th-century music to bring the true colours of that period into modern performance.

Goberman’s career then flourished in quite a different way – in 1940 he toured Australia with the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo. He then became chief conductor of the New York City Opera and the Ballet Theatre. In 1941 he was on Broadway as musical director for three ballets at the Majestic Theater, including Three Virgins and a Devil choreographed by Agnes de Mille. In 1945 he conducted the film score of Histadrut and started directing musicals on Broadway – the first of which was Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town (1944) then there was Billion Dollar Baby (1945-46) and at this time he also conducted a season with the National Ballet of Cuba but from 1948 to 1950 he was back on Broadway conducting Where’s Charley? In 1951 it was A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and in 1957 he premièred West Side Story. His last Broadway venture was Milk and Honey in 1961.

The 18th-century element of Goberman’s activities emerged in his presenting an edition of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera which he also directed on Broadway and subsequently recorded. Goberman had already founded the New York Sinfonietta and he set about recording all of Vivaldi’s Concertos – he is said to have recorded 75 of them although documentation on the subject is unclear and not easily accessible. Corelli’s Concertos were another of his aims.

Goberman is probably best known for his creation of The Library of Recorded Masterpieces. He formed this label in 1959 and aimed to record every Haydn Symphony, in Vienna with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra. The LPs were offered on a subscription basis. They were expensive (I recall paying $10 plus postage and excise duty for the few LPs that I was able to afford) but they were superbly packaged with thorough notes and miniature scores bound into the book-like record sleeves. In these recordings, members of the Vienna State Opera Orchestra played for Goberman with exciting élan. The fierce drive he gave to those early Symphonies demonstrated that, despite Haydn’s modest forces, the music was full of vigour and excitement. Attention was given to authentic detail: harpsichord and bassoon continuo was used where suitable – the Universal Edition scores edited by H. C. Robbins Landon suggest that harpsichord is necessary in approximately half the works and this is how Goberman presented them. The Symphonies in which Haydn demanded horns in high C were played using specially manufactured instruments – natural horns at modern pitch constructed for the project by Alexander Brothers.

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For years Haydn-lovers have eagerly awaited transfer to compact disc of these recordings, particularly since CBS started (but mercifully abandoned) a series of transfers to LP just before the CD era arrived. Sadly, CBS could not equal the technology of the 1960s. The original recordings had been made using a 3-track system but CBS could only reproduce the outside two tracks, so although the sound was passable, it was never as good as on the LRM originals, inevitably lacking impact from the middle of the orchestra and this slightly tamed the winds and drums. In the booklet accompanying Sony’s set – much to its credit – an admission of this error is made and there is confirmation that the 3-track recordings have been properly restored – mostly from master tapes but occasionally from LPs which were correctly transferred.

The note does not concern analysis of the music but concentrates on Goberman’s career and his approach to Haydn. It is refreshing to read that the author – Anthony Fountain – feels that historically-informed performances of Haydn in the 1950s were virtually non-existent with the exception of those by Hermann Scherchen. At that time it was fashionable to denigrate Scherchen’s readings – I thought this unfair – for although he could give eccentric performances they were almost always illuminating and the clear textures and imposing use of wind instruments were immensely suitable. It is a great tragedy that Goberman’s ambitious Haydn project was brought to a premature halt because of his untimely death due to a heart attack. Just under half of Haydn’s Symphonies had been documented in brilliant, forthright accounts.

The decision to present the Symphonies in number order is acceptable although this means that six of the discs run for well under 60 minutes. I am concerned that the music presented is only that which was available on the LPs and Goberman recorded more than that because repeats were cut out in order to accommodate the vinyl format. It should be remembered that Library of Recorded Masterpieces was a co-production with Deutsche Grammophon under the supervision of Dr Hans Hirsch and the producer was Robbins Landon. Many years ago I queried the illogical omission of repeats on the LPs and in a letter written to me by Professor Landon on 16 May 1976 he said: “I fear as you suggested, most of the repeats were removed, we always did all of them.” This then is a serious failing but in describing the performances I shall only refer to this defect when the omissions are particularly damaging.

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Though relatively brief and only just emerging from the Baroque era, the Symphonies on the first CD – Nos.1 to 4 – make a striking impact. No.1 is especially vivid with the first movement sweeping eagerly forward – lively in speed and strong in rhythm from the outset, there can be no doubt that here is an extraordinary Haydn conductor. Magnificent oboes – skilled harpsichord continuo support (it is the making of the otherwise strings-only central Andante) and a fiery finale. Numbering of the Symphonies is not always reliable but Haydn did confirm that this was his first composition in this form – a superb piece. A pity about Symphony No.2: it is a sort of divertimento and not even in strict symphonic form. No other Haydn Symphony is written like this. The horn parts are particularly uninteresting. There is documentary evidence showing it to be by Haydn, otherwise I might well have doubted that he composed it. Goberman does his best for the poor old thing. Symphony 3 is much more stimulating. Even so there are some reservations – the horns are somewhat wooden, the oboes less plangent and Goberman seems less attentive to detail. No harpsichord in the slow movement and in the first some turns are played as trills and while it is admirable to have both repeats there is a crotchet missing in the second-time bar – a tiny matter but underlining that less attention is being paid here. Then I found a possible reason because the information in the days of the LPs named the New York Sinfonietta, although it is not mentioned in the literature accompanying the Sony box. Symphony 4 finds Goberman at his vivid best – much bite to the rhythm – enhanced by the strength of the continuo. The finale, marked Tempo di Menuetto, is taken deliberately – maybe to avoid making this simple music sound too lightweight. At the end of Disc 1 the Overture to L’infedeltà delusa is included. Ten of the most thrilling minutes in the entire box – the horns in high C are unbelievably accurate. This is one of Haydn’s celebratory works where he puts horns at trumpet pitch underpinned by timpani – an extraordinary sound.

Symphony No.5 is a so-called Church-Sonata because it opens with a slow movement – an ethereally beautiful Adagio featuring incredibly high parts for horns in A, played here with unparalleled skill, the magical softening in the final bars being no less a tribute to the technique of the performers than their spectacular brilliance. The succeeding Allegro drives forward excitingly but perhaps a more forward harpsichord would have helped underpin the nervously flailing violin figuration, but the oboes ring through with an appropriate touch of acidity. The Minuet is sturdily joyful but the pièce de resistance is Menuetto 2do with further stratospheric horn-writing played to perfection. Goberman is swift and vivid in the tiny Presto finale.

Symphonies 6, 7 & 8 (respectively ‘Morning’, ‘Noon’ and ‘Evening’) are notable for their difficult concertante parts – even including the double bass which has a delightful solo in each Symphony. This performance of No.6 would be worth hearing for the glorious playing of that instrument. It is interesting to note that in the slow introduction Goberman effectively employs double-dotted rhythms. The slow movement is a little cautious in tempo but immensely interesting in detail and phrasing. The recording is brighter in the treble than I recall from the original.

Goberman is no less impressive in No.7 but I was surprised to find him following the old-fashioned practice of using a cello solo in the Trio despite indications to the contrary in the score that was included with the LRM album. I did locate a score dated July 1936 edited by Dr Ernst Praetorius which indicates cello at this point – could it be that the Universal Edition publication had not been published at the time of the recording? The recitative-and-aria movement does not have the required melodic flow, the result of a very slow tempo that does not permit Goberman to sustain the singing line he is usually so capable of evoking.

Similarly, in Symphony 8 the speed is too slow for the Andante movement but perhaps Goberman felt that the Adagio marking on the manuscript parts in the Thurn und Taxis Archives justify his choice. Once again the Trio disappoints because cello instead of double bass is used. Gerhardt Zatchek is the soloist and plays wonderfully but it is not what Haydn required. Landon’s editing requires a bass solo but I did discover an Eulenberg score dated 1954 also edited by Landon where a cello is shown. The three-movement Overture to Lo Speziale concludes this CD.

In No.9 Goberman obtains some fine string playing, as it needs to be, for his furious urgency in the opening movement sends semiquavers flying like chaff before the wind! In the Andante, two flutes add a gentle glow to the violins’ melodies. Touches such as the quiet echo of bars 39 and 40 are very acceptable. The Minuet-Finale is reminiscent of its counterpart in Boyce’s Symphony No.5. Goberman makes it appropriately stately and there is a fetching ‘outdoor’ quality about the oboe solo in the Trio. The recording has good separation.

As might be expected, Goberman makes the most of Haydn’s startlingly disruptive chords in the opening movement of Symphony 10. He does, however, have the disadvantage of a somewhat over-recorded sound that makes some of the fully scored forte passages seem thick and strained but the elegant Andante is charming with harpsichord standing clearly apart from the upper lines. The finale is fairly conventional but Goberman thrusts it along with joyful galloping verve.

No.11 is another ‘Church Sonata’ work. The conductor brings graciousness to the opening Adagio cantabile, the calm sonorities of the horns gleam softly in mellow support of the strings and the Allegro and the final Presto have no lack of drive. Symphony 12 sounds extraordinarily mature – especially in this firm, forward-moving performance. Both repeats are made in the rapid outer movements but neither in the central Adagio. This makes this brief work perfectly proportioned. A 10-minute Adagio would have been disproportionate therefore I believe the choice of repeats or their omissions was entirely that of Goberman. Symphony 13 is also very mature – indeed large-scale, the orchestration includes four horns and timpani. The latter part is particularly interesting and I enjoy the flute’s delighted response to the drum solos in the first movement. The strokes in the Minuet are also an arresting feature. It is said that the timpani part may have been written by Adam Sturm, the timpanist of Haydn’s orchestra. The sound though is a little less clear than that obtainable from the original LP. The possibly-earlier Symphony 14 features spectacular parts for horns played here with remarkable accuracy, subtle harpsichord support enhances the slow movement. I do not believe that Goberman chose to omit the second repeat in the finale since he makes both in the first movement. The three-year earlier Symphony 15 has an unusual opening movement in slow-fast-slow form, the beginning being exceptionally beautiful. The Minuet is placed second. The finale is rather simple and, uncharacteristically, the tempo seems hurried – especially at the return of the main theme.

This group of lightly-scored Symphonies continues with 16, 17 and 19. Each has three movements and perhaps the most interesting is No.16 with engaging parts for horns in B flat alto. Surprisingly, these instruments are not particularly forward in the balance but otherwise the sound is very bright – much better than the rather muddy original. The detail of the important sequences for second violins is well brought out – Goberman always had them placed to his right dividing them from the firsts in 18th-century manner: a great advantage. The sound is notably bright on this entire CD (containing 16, 17, 19, 20, 21) but this is probably a fault in the right direction. Horns in F are featured in the innocent sounding No.17 and glow impressively in the finale. Though earlier, No.19 seems rather more mature. Haydn enthusiasts recall becoming interested in early Haydn through the worthy version by Leslie Jones (not one of that admirable conductor’s best but squashing it on to LP with two other Symphonies did it no favours). Goberman is able to give the work considerable breadth although I suspect that he did not leave out the second repeat of the outer movements – especially as both are made in the central Andante.

With Symphony 20 we are on more dramatic ground. Here is the earliest of Haydn’s “Festive” Symphonies that require horns in C alto and timpani. Trumpets are included too. Although at the same pitch as the horns their task differs: the fanfare moments are theirs, while the stunning high melodic writing features the horns. This is an excellent refurbishment – surprisingly bright at times but much better than the thin-sounding original – a bit more oboe in the balance would have been ideal. Symphonies 21 and 22 are very similar in contour – both with opening slow movements; that of 21 is notable for the lovely horn and oboe solos, that of 22 for its use of two cors anglais. The most appropriate name ‘Philosopher’ stems from the grave nature of this initial movement. The approximate number of minutes taken for the movements of both the Symphonies here is 6,5,3,4, but interestingly the slow first movement of No.21 has no repeats marked in the score whereas that of No.22 shows repetition for both halves. Goberman leaves out both in 22. This is ideal because the two Symphonies are thus proportionately identical. I am certain that it is Goberman and not the editor who made the repeat omissions. The delightful No.23 is played with vigour and the finale is notable for one of Haydn’s surprise endings where it is uncertain just which is the final pizzicato. This subtle jest benefits from being played, as here, straight. I have always felt that Haydn’s horn-writing in Symphony 24 is not at all interesting. Much of the time these instruments fill in the texture in a range that is already harmonically enriched by the violas. This is not to say that the forward, attacking tone of the oboes does other than to delight at the opening and the muted harpsichord gives much atmosphere to the flute solo in the slow movement.

The dramatic D minor Symphony 26 is entitled ‘Lamentatione’ because of his use of an ancient plainchant melody which previously illustrated the Lamentations of Jeremiah. The fiery opening movement marked Allegro assai con spirito is immensely dramatic when driven at a furious tempo but, inexplicably, Goberman is ponderous in the extreme taking over five minutes whereas Heiller, Kuijken and Solomons all take within a few seconds of four minutes and are entirely convincing – even the Adagio is less sensitive than it might have been although it is pleasing that the inauthentic slurs that so many conductors apply to the repeated notes are not imposed and the Minuet gathers a certain amount of strength. The lightweight three-movement Symphony 27, which did not appear on the LPs, gave scholars trouble in discovering original material and for a long time was only available in an edition which left out the horn parts (Constantin Silvestri made a recording of this version). Though not a masterpiece, the work is redeemed by the exciting nature of the horn-writing and the use of pizzicato accompaniment in the slow movement – the music is sunny throughout as is the performance.

With Symphony 32 we return to the excitement of high horns in C, trumpets and drums. This is a dashing performance, swirling strings and blazing brass enhance the breathless optimism of the outer movements. The Minuet (placed second) brought a query when I first heard it on LP, involving a possible edit at the start of the Trio but I no longer detect it and to be really precise I can report that the original slackening of tempo at bars 28-29 of the slow movement is not to be heard on the new transfer. The minor-keyed 34 was not included on the LPs. It opens in the depths of sadness with a brightening of hope come the second subject. There is great breadth of tempo here and much sensitivity. As with No.22 the decision to omit both repeats of an opening slow movement is very convincing. This work provides a field-day for oboes with many of their passages marked ‘solo’, so a closer focus on them would have helped.

No.35 represents another tour de force for horns – the brilliant upward sweep for these instruments in high B flat at bar 110 must be a terrifying experience for the players. Symphony 37 joins No.34 in appearing for the first time. This work is very early – indeed one of the first Haydn composed. The scoring is identical for the brass instruments, so this gives the choice of using either trumpets or C-alto horns; Goberman employs the former and it works very well. Although the themes are simple and the style not yet fully developed the scoring gives brilliance and the music has a substantial feeling to it. Goberman leaves out the last two descending bass notes at the end of the Minuet – he is guilty of this elsewhere. I see no excuse for this. Karl Haas would always be furious if his players tried to impose this very questionable tradition. The charming No.40 is performed with imagination and some excellent features, not least the harpsichord contribution to the Andante which Goberman takes very swiftly and to excellent effect. In the Trio there was a problem about strings being added to woodwinds or not – Goberman accepts Landon’s solution to do so but Thomas Beecham recognised the problem and came up with a convincing solution even though he had no reliable sources.

The “Festive” C major Symphony 41 demonstrates greater power than earlier examples: here is another thrilling experience. Goberman has a strange hesitancy at the second subject of the first movement and it is even more noticeable on the repeat. Then there is a hurried first phrase of the Trio (an edit?) and second violins overpower the firsts at the start of the finale (keen LP historians will recall that the mono version was better here). Nevertheless there is splendid woodwind detail and superbly balanced timpani. All this is a good wake-up call for the following work, this time the ‘Maria Theresia’ Symphony. Goberman rightly dispenses with trumpets, the C-alto horns take the limelight, and rustic oboes and crisp timpani enhance the excitement. This is one of the greatest Haydn performances of all time and the sound quality is better than ever.

It seems somehow appropriate that so much jubilation should be followed by the quiet thoughtfulness of the Adagio that opens Symphony 49 (‘La Passione’) although this music is not without an element of restlessness. It is the attention to detail that impresses here. For example bar 35 represents a sudden forte, yet many a conductor spoils this effect by employing an unmarked crescendo from the previous held note. Goberman has dealing with such romantic impositions. He does however depart from his consistent medium-paced approach to Minuets by taking this particular example more quickly than usual, but what wonderfully subtle horn-playing in the elegant Trio. Haydn’s use of horns is also a feature of Symphony 51 but this time they are given concertante parts and each is put to the extremes of their range in all the movements. Changing from B flat to E flat for the Adagio the contrast is even greater and tremendous demands are put on the instrumentalists in the unusual Minuet which has two Trios. The writing for the first horn in the second Trio is stratospheric, as for the other player, he must have needed to check how many ledger lines were written below the stave. Friedrich Gabler and Hans Fischer are the wonderfully skilled musicians here.

In the first movement of Symphony 52 there is a tiny point much discussed by musicologists where at bar 111 Helmut Schulz, the editor of the Universal score which is used here, suggests that the horns should enter a bar early – something to be discussed by academics, but Goberman – along with every other conductor I have heard – ignores the idea. This darkly dramatic work has its moment of lightness in the comforting slow movement. Symphony 55 (The Schoolmaster) is much more light-hearted, the title refers to the slow movement where contemporaries thought the dry humour of the Andante ma simplicemente represented academic preciseness. Symphony 56 is among Haydn’s most brilliant – those plangent high horns with trumpets and marvellously crisp timpani. The Adagio is taken at an amazingly slow tempo: it takes 10½ minutes and neither repeat is taken – a very good choice. I know repeats were removed from many of these performances yet I have not complained if the contours of the music remain logical but the treatment of Symphony 57 is puzzling. The 7½-minute first movement is not damaged by only the exposition being repeated – a usual convention – but did Goberman really leave out all ten repetitions in the Adagio, a theme and variations? The odd thing is that in context the proportions still remain acceptable. Far less acceptable however is the omission of both repeats in the finale – I feel certain that this does not represent what was recorded.

No.60 is all joyfulness – a Symphony in six movements based on music for a drama. Haydn’s deliberate wandering absentmindedness in the first movement is great fun as is stopping to re-tune before the finale. The mixture of poignant gracefulness and loud fanfares in the previous movement suggests something spectacular was going on in the play. All is played with great panache and the recording is one of immediacy. Symphony 65 represents another triumph, this brightly optimistic work is performed with great exuberance and the horn-players take their enormously demanding parts in their stride. The splendid joke in the Minuet where the beat seems to go to four in a bar is very effective – particularly as Goberman plays it with no emphasis. The hunting finale flies along at enormous speed. The Acide e Galatea Overture follows – another of the items appearing for the first time.

It is unfortunate that Goberman recorded only three late Symphonies. I regret that No.92 (Oxford) is not very special, the sound being rather woolly in the lower regions and the playing is not of the usual crisp standard. Goberman is uncharacteristically unsteady in the slow movement. Good to have the outer movement exposition repeats though; they were removed from the one-off issue many years ago by the Chicago Sun-Times. Symphony 96 is another matter: Goberman’s sense of drive is unparalleled, the woodwind sounds joyful in a rustic kind of way and the finale is fiery with brilliant flute-playing (Haydn is said to have particularly requested rapidity here). Just a slight reservation perhaps since the horns are a little less forward than usual but the trumpets are exceptionally brilliant.

Symphony 98 is another great performance – dramatic in the extreme. A little untidiness in the first movement does not matter. Not surprisingly the recording sounds brighter and more forward than on my half-century old LP, but the same old question arises about the true representation of the performance; surely Goberman did not omit the important long repeat in the finale. True it was also missing from the LP but that was probably to save space (even then the Symphony took more than one side). The virtuosic harpsichord solo near the end must be mentioned though: it is very exciting.

The reminder of this final disc contains two early Symphonies which were not known to Eusebius Mandyczewski when he numbered them. The delightful work known as Symphony B (Hob I:108) might have escaped his notice because at the time of his catalogue, dating from the late-1750s, was listed as a “Parthia”. Unusually for this period the Minuet is placed second. It is otherwise in the style of the earliest Symphonies and includes Haydn’s practice of using horns in the high register. Goberman conducts a sparkling performance. The remaining work here is a Symphony in B flat which is to be found listed in Helga Scholz-Michelitsch’s catalogue of works by Wagenseil as Mich 442. Both the booklet accompanying the recordings and the record cover call it “Symphony No.107 in B flat major Hob I:107”. but although some MS parts in the Budapest National Library were found to have a few additions in Haydn’s hand there does not seem to be much evidence that he composed it – even Hoboken’s catalogue says “attrib. Wagenseil”. The best that can be said for it is that it is an interesting curiosity.

This is an exciting set but the visual presentation is disappointing: each of the 14 CDs shows a bust of Haydn with the same illustration repeated and overlaid with a heavy block of colour making the figures barely discernible except in three or four cases. Could not the imaginative original-LP sleeves have been reproduced? Haydn enthusiasts have awaited the CD issue of this set for many years although worthy transfers taken from the LPs have been available in the States. Many of the Sony discs are particularly impressive. The nature of Haydn’s music is presented with conviction – these modern-instrument performances get to the heart of the matter at least as successfully as those using period ones. In terms of objective interpretation they are superior to some recent ‘authentic’ accounts that get the right sound but suffer from the whims of conductors who impose subjective manipulation of tempos and sometimes even changes of orchestration. The question remains, why could not the repeats that were deleted to fit the recordings on to LP have been reinstated? This reservation apart I can say with confidence that in terms of stereo sound the majority of these recordings are ahead of their time. Lovers of Haydn’s music who have hitherto been unable to access Goberman’s performances will find them revelatory.

Haydn Symphonies as included in this set [listing supplied by Antony Hodgson and unedited regarding Classical Source house-style]:
Symphonies – No. 1 in D; No. 2 in C; *No. 3 in G; No. 4 in D; No. 5 in A; No. 6 in D Le matin; No. 7 in C Le midi; No. 8 in G Le soir; No. 9 in C; No. 10 in D; No. 11 in E flat; No. 12 in E; No. 13 in D; No. 14 in A; No. 15 in D; No. 16 in B flat; No. 17 in F; No. 19 in D; No. 20 in C; No. 21 in A; No. 22 in E flat Der Philosoph; No. 23 in G; No. 24 in D; No. 26 in D minor Lamentatione; No. 27 in G; No. 32 in C; No. 34 in D minor; No. 35 in B flat; No. 37 in C; No. 40 in F; No. 41 in C; No. 48 in C Maria Theresia; No. 49 in F minor; No. 51 in B flat; No. 52 in C minor; No. 55 in E flat Der Schulmeister; No. 56 in C; No. 57 in D; No. 60 in C Il Distratto; No. 65 in A; No. 92 in G Oxford; No. 96 in D; No. 98 in B flat; No. 107 in B flat; No. 108 in B flat; Overtures – Acide e Galatea; L’infedeltà delusa; Lo speziale

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