This excellent disc represents my first experience with the German label Musicaphon; the label specializes in infrequently performed repertory, and while these often-performed chestnuts are no strangers to the concert hall, the unusual arrangements they’ve been given definitely place these works in that category. The disc’s title is actually a bit of a misnomer; while the description offers “arranged for Chamber Orchestra,” the Emsland Ensemble is, in fact, an octet. And while, yes, this is a chamber setting of these works, it’s a much more intimate affair than even a chamber orchestra would offer.
The centerpiece is Haydn’s Symphony No. 45, “Farewell.” As the story goes, Haydn and the members of his orchestra were in residence with and under the employ of Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy. This residency included the wives and children of the orchestra members, and this came to be a burden on the castle Esterhaza. The Prince soon tired of this arrangement and essentially banned the families of orchestra members, while still insisting that the players remain onsite at his disposal, as long as he was in residence at the castle. During this time period, the Prince remained at the castle for an unusually prolonged time, and the orchestra members grew anxious for contact with their families. They approached Haydn, asking him to intercede with the Prince on their behalf. Haydn’s novel approach to a resolution was through his Symphony No. 45; in the finale, the various members of the orchestra exit the stage as each instrument’s part concludes. This, in effect, was a request for a vacation, and legend has it that the Prince understood clearly and granted the request. Regardless, it makes for a great story and a most unusual musical finale, unlike that of any other symphony in the literature.
While it might seem a bit of a stretch for an octet to offer convincing performances of symphonic literature, the Emsland Ensemble pulls this feat off with aplomb aplenty. The arrangements by Andreas Tarkmann (Schubert & Mozart) and Ulf-Guido Schafer (Haydn) are superb; the players obviously know this music intimately, and the overall effect is both thrilling and deeply satisfying. The recording is also outstanding, and captures an excellent representation of the recording venue, which is a church converted into a performance hall. Overall, an auspicious introduction to Musicaphon, and highly recommended!
— Tom Gibbs