Haydn: SYMPHONIES NOS. 101 & 104
Orchestra of St. Luke’s/SIR CHARLES MACKERRAS (Telarc)
In the world of classical music, Franz Joseph Haydn is considered to be the Father of the Symphony. With a total of one hundred four excursions into the symphonic realm, Haydn elevated this form; and along with his much younger contemporary Mozart, he basically set the table for the Viennese style of the form that would radiate into the 19th century.
It is in his final twelve symphonies, the ones he composed during two separate sojourns to London in the 1790s, that Haydn really reached his peak. In these symphonies, Haydn was able to write for orchestras numbering upwards of sixty players, which gave him considerable flexibility. Two of those twelve so-called “London” symphonies are on this 1992 Telarc recording made by the New York-based Orchestra of St. Luke’s under the direction of the late Sir Charles Mackerras, one of the great conductors of the 20th century.
SYMPHONY NO. 101 IN D MAJOR (CLOCK)—Like many of Haydn’s symphonies, the 101st begins with a fairly portentous introduction, leading into the main whirring first movement. It is in the G Major Andante, the second movement, that one can hear the tempo assume the characteristics of the ticking of a clock, which is how the entire symphony achieved its nickname of the “Clock” Symphony. Haydn was famous for incorporating such musical effects into his symphonies of that time (the shocking jolt in the 94th; the ominous drum roll that opens the 103rd), so the tick-tock effect in the Andante was very typical of the composer, utilizing it as a way to keep the audience’s attention on the music, lest they nod off. The Menuet (third movement) is a highly energetic piece in the D Major home key, followed by a jaunty final movement.
SYMPHONY NO. 104 IN D MAJOR (LONDON)—This, the final symphony that Haydn composed, once again has a stark opening that varies between major and minor keys, leading into a first movement in which Haydn seems to be opening the door for the symphonies of Beethoven and Schubert that would follow along over the thirty years following this symphony’s 1795 premiere. The second movement, an Andante, has some of the same time-clock feel of the 101st, while the Menuet that follows anticipates the symphonic Menuets and Scherzos of symphonies yet to be. The symphony’s finale begins with a bagpipe-like drone in the low string section, and wraps up in impressive fashion. Following this symphony, Haydn managed to compose for the orchestra only twice more, a Sinfonia-Concertante for cello, bassoon, oboe, and violin, and his always-popular E Flat Major Trumpet Concerto. After that, he devoted himself largely to choral music, including his two oratorios (“The Creation”; “The Seasons”) and his final six settings of the Latin Mass (nos. 9-14), all back home in his native Austria.
Mackerras is a conductor well known for working with both modern orchestras and period-instrument ensembles, and this is reflected in the way he conducts these works. The Orchestra of St. Luke’s is a modern chamber orchestra, but the performances on this recording reflect some of the period instrument movement’s advocacy of returning to what the composer himself had in mind. Mackerras is able to balance the two worlds on this recording, and he and the O.S.L. come up with one of the great modern Haydn symphony recordings of our time. The orchestration is not overstuffed or doubled; but at the same time, as opposed to many period instrument recordings of these Classical-era masterpieces, the performances are not done in such an extreme rush.
Even if these are not necessarily definitive Haydn performances on par with those of Leonard Bernstein, George Szell, or Sir Colin Davis, they still merit sufficient attention, and they come highly recommended.