HAYDN: Six Symphonies – Vienna State Opera Orch./Winterthur Municipal Orch./Royal Philharmonic/Hermann Scherchen – Tahra (2 CDs)

by | Apr 20, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

HAYDN: Symphony No. 45 in F-sharp Minor “Farewell”; Symphony No. 48 in C Major, “Maria Theresa”; Symphony No. 92 in G Major “Oxford”; Symphony No. 94 in G Major “Surprise”; Symphony No. 100 in G Major “Military”; Symphony No. 103 in E-flat Major “Clock” – Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Orchestre Municipal de Winterthur (No. 94)/Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (No. 100)/Hermann Scherchen

Tahra TAH 680-681 (2 CDs) 70:22; 75:44 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Marking the 200th anniversary of the passing of Franz Joseph Haydn, 2009 saw the reissue of Hermann Scherchen’s vision of six–he recorded 21 Haydn symphonies–of the “program” symphonies, each reflective of that maestro’s strong personality which projects Haydn as a dynamic forerunner of Beethoven. The earliest of the inscriptions by Hermann Scherchen (1891-1966), the Surprise Symphony with the Winterthur Orchestra, dates from the Swiss branch of His Master’s Voice, recorded on Swiss HMV 78 rpm at the Zurich Tonhalle 27 May 1942. Scherchen draws ardent and supple lines in the “Surprise” G Major, the first movement casting an aura both bucolic and sinewy. The remastered shellacs by Charles Eddi remain singularly quiet and unobtrusive. The famed C Major Andante and four variations moves a strong walking pace, the woodwinds resonant and the tympani prominent. Not lacking for delicacy as well as girth, the figures dance in stately galant gestures as well as threatening in C Minor. Scherchen captures fluidly the rusticity of the Menuetto, music on the verge of a Beethoven scherzo. A touch of the galant style no less permeates the final Allegro molto, etched to the lyrical string in Scherchen’s harp.

For the Military Symphony (September 1954) Scherchen has at his disposal Beecham’s esteemed Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which Scherchen galvanizes into a beautifully balanced series of lyrical and martial affects. The secondary theme of the first movement prances as well as thumps with resonant chords in the cellos and basses. Elegance personified, the Allegretto makes a dainty first impression and then swells into a colorful paean to the martial, janissary tradition–trumpet, triangle, and tympani in fine fettle. A thoroughly virile Menuetto that sways and swaggers in redolent counterpoint leads to Scherchen’s vivacious Presto, willfully contrapuntal, sudden, and intensely virtuosic.

A sense of foreboding ushers in the Scherchen July 1951 Clock Symphony in D, whose opening Adagio might well have influenced the Beethoven B-flat Symphony. The Presto spills out from a limitless resource of rhythmical and color energy, the Vienna Opera Orchestra in plastic and transparent form. The trumpet fanfares and low strings prove as vital as the flute work seems to liberate us from all heaviness. The eponymous motif in the Andante proceeds like. . .clockwork, I dare say, except lyrically informed and lovingly hued in the VSOO woodwinds. The music expands and swells well beyond the obvious content and achieves an exalted consciousness of its own ingenuity. The expansive Menuetto stands quite alone for the scale and scope of Scherchen’s treatment, muscular, driven, and eminently vocal in all parts. A staid introduction to the Vivace soon yields to its more manic impulses but played by Scherchen for their solemn contrapuntal power. A degree of gravitas infiltrates even the lyrical episodes, and the string and tympanic articulation from the VSOO proves exemplary.

The July 1958 Farewell Symphony–recorded in stereo (except for the last 40 seconds!)–brings a pungent immediacy to the opening–in minor arpeggios against syncopated figures–Allegro assai, infectious, slashing, rife with feral sturm und drang. The 3/8 Adagio projects an elegantly muted stealth, chromatically nuanced and darkly intimate. The Menuetto suffers a weak beat in its final cadences, along with a modal exoticism, that places this court dance in a strange world. The Finale in F-sharp Minor moves in brisk sonata-form, Scherchen emphasizing the emotional intensity and restlessness of the figures. Suddenly, we become immersed in a new Adagio movement, a throwback to the A Major Adagio of the second movement which then modulates to the home key, in which musicians systematically bid literal farewells (“Auf Wiedersehen”) to the concert stage, only to leave the VSOO first chair violins to conclude a most authentic performance.

The Symphony No. 48 in C Major “Maria Theresa” (rec. December 1950 for Ultraphon) explodes upon the scene with unbridled verve and suave harmonic energies, the Mannheim rockets in startling panoply. The layered intensities of this first movement quite recommend themselves to Beethoven as the emotional heir to the hectic swings of heraldry that run rampant through the strings, horns, and tympani. The 6/8 F Major Adagio features the French horns in galant figures against plaintive strings, the affect close to Mozart‘s Masonic Funeral Music. Scherchen provides an immediate emotional foil in the stately Menuetto, pompous and martial, again in the manner of Mozart, specifically his German Dances, K. 605. The furious Allegro last movement moves at ramming speed, breathless, a spirited romp in bold whirlwind colors that the VSOO executes with sterling finesse.

Scherchen’s December 1950 Oxford Symphony derives from a Supraphon disc itself appropriated from Ultraphon. A hefty Allegro spiritoso ensues after the opening Adagio, the tympani in sharp relief against the active and flexible string line. The strutting figures remind us of The Hen Symphony, except the counterpoint becomes more refined. Brisk and sinewy, the development has us rapt in the sonic clarity of line, the contours crisp and alert. The Adagio cantabile lulls our senses until the thumping minor-key episode shatters our dogmatic slumbers. Scherchen allows this extended moment of gravity its full scope and evolution, quite intensely dramatic, making the da capo all the more sweet in its simple lyricism. The six-measure Menuetto urges us forward in rollicking muscular gestures. The final Presto opens rather slowly, even sluggishly for my taste, and its marcato approach never fully achieves unbuttoned humor so much as it communicates a deliberation and learned patina some will find unduly heavy.

–Gary Lemco