Haydn Symphonies 52, 53 & 59 – Royal Northern Sinfonia/Rebecca Miller [Signum]

5 of 5 stars

Symphony No.52 in C minor
Symphony No.53 in D ‘L’Impériale’ [plus Finale “B”]
Symphony No.59 in D

Royal Northern Sinfonia
Rebecca Miller

Recorded 7-8 September 2014 at Sage Gateshead, England

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: August 2016
Duration: 70 minutes



Here are performances reminiscent of the ‘good old days’ when, in the early 1960s, authentic versions of Haydn’s scores had just been published by Universal Edition under the editorship of H. C. Robbins Landon, and conductors such as David Blum, Max Goberman and Leslie Jones, using suitably-sized modern-instrument chamber orchestras, revealed the truth of the music as never before.

Of these notable stylists, Rebecca Miller’s readings most resemble those of Blum, especially in respect of crispness of phrasing and vivid dynamic contrasts. In Symphony 53 her excellent timpanist (Marney O’Sullivan) provides that ideally dry ‘period’ sound (Leslie Jones remarked favourably on that feature of Blum’s recordings). There are many contrasting elements in Haydn and sometimes conductors make the error of shifting the speed in order to underline them. Miller avoids such crude manipulation and lets the melodies flow eloquently at a constant tempo, subtleties enhanced by an immensely skilled orchestra. At times the conductor’s speeds are demanding although rapidity is only used where appropriate. It is good to hear a conductor who does not rush Minuets and brings out phrases that sometimes get swept aside.

There is careful attention to shape and form: in Symphony 59, both repeats are made in the outer movements – essential to the proportions and justifying the very fast Finale. There is an interesting view of the Trio section: a sense of breathless tension enters, here to ear-catching effect. Throughout the work, the spectacularly difficult horn parts are played by Peter Francombe and Chris Griffiths with remarkable accuracy.

The dark Symphony 52 is notable for its carefully calculated orchestration and it features the sparing but striking use of a horn in C-alto which suddenly illumines the texture in the outer movements. The omission of both repeats from the Andante is logical in relation to the form but there is a moment of subjective interpretation in the phrasing of the Trio which is also given unexpected decorations on the first repeat and sounds over-careful.

Symphony 53 is rightly played with grandeur featuring a grand opening Largo. This is one of the few Haydn D-major Symphonies to use timpani but no trumpets thereby giving force without employing the fanfare-like sequences usually heard in the more fully-scored works. A few extra decorations are thrown into the flowing Andante – and the Minuet is delightfully sturdy.

The Finale is the subject of much discussion: various Finales have been used over the years, very often the one now known as “B” which was published and frequently used in Haydn’s time; however the original ‘Capriccio’, found in the archives at Eszterháza and undoubtedly authentic, is used here. It seems clear that Miller employs the Universal Edition score as edited by Helmut Schultz – this represented the first publication of the true Finale and it is performed with the power it deserves, making the sudden quiet moments all the more quaint.

Finale “B” ends the disc – in this form it is ‘Overture No.7’ with supplementary instruments. I cannot imagine that the timpani part with its long quiet rolls and dramatic crescendos has much to do with Haydn but it makes the music very exciting: cheerful bracing music to close an admirable programme in which Rebecca Miller combines panache with sensitivity and obtains superb playing from Royal Northern Sinfonia.

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