Haydn 2032 Vol.5: L’Homme de genie
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Label: Alpha - Haydn 2032
Cat No: ALPHA676
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 17th November 2017
WorksSymphony no.19 in D major, Hob.I:19
Symphony no.80 in D minor, Hob.I:80
Symphony no.81 in G major, Hob.I:81
Symphony in C minor, VB142
1Haydn - Symphony no.80 in D minor, Hob.I:80 - I. Allegro spiritoso
2Haydn - Symphony no.80 in D minor, Hob.I:80 - II. Adagio
3Haydn - Symphony no.80 in D minor, Hob.I:80 - III. Menuet - Trio
4Haydn - Symphony no.80 in D minor, Hob.I:80 - IV. Finale (Presto)
5Haydn - Symphony no.81 in G major, Hob.I:81 - I. Vivace
6Haydn - Symphony no.81 in G major, Hob.I:81 - II. Andante
7Haydn - Symphony no.81 in G major, Hob.I:81 - III. Menuet (Allegretto) - Trio
8Haydn - Symphony no.81 in G major, Hob.I:81 - IV. Finale (Allegro, ma non troppo)
9Kraus - Symphony in C minor, VB142 - I. Larghetto - Allegro
10Kraus - Symphony in C minor, VB142 - II. Andante
11Kraus - Symphony in C minor, VB142 - III. Allegro assai
12Haydn - Symphony no.19 in D major, Hob.I:19 - I. Allegro molto
13Haydn - Symphony no.19 in D major, Hob.I:19 - II. Andante
14Haydn - Symphony no.19 in D major, Hob.I:19 - III. Presto
Where other Haydn cycles have grouped works either numerically or chronologically (not always the same thing in the often misleading numbering system), Antonini chooses a ‘theme’ for each disc. For this one, it’s ‘L’homme de génie’: the man of genius – an entirely appropriate description of Haydn that particularly applies to the two main works here, Symphonies nos. 80 and 81. These are two of a group of three symphonies that he wrote in 1784 with a view to the international market that his new contract with Prince Nikolaus Esterházy had granted him permission to enter. By any standards these are impressive works: no.80 in D minor seems initially to inhabit the explosively impassioned Sturm und Drang world of Haydn’s middle period symphonies, but that opening soon gives way to a strikingly lopsided Ländler, and the fusion of emotional volatility with characteristically Haydnesque wit and humour is a hallmark of the work as a whole, not least in the minor-key Minuet, where the deliciously inflected major-key Trio even incorporates a line of Gregorian chant on oboes and horns. The brilliant Finale teases the audience (and the musicians) with a play of syncopations that makes the actual beat extraordinarily elusive.
The G major Symphony, no.81, is deceptively suave, but immediately veers away from the tonic key in a passage that earned the admiration of the late Charles Rosen in his seminal book The Classical Style. The Andante slow movement is a beguiling siciliana of a type that Haydn made something of a speciality, while the Minuet has a rustic tang that is perfectly captured by Antonini and his players, never descending to the sort of coarseness that too often marred Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s Haydn performances. The bassoon-led Trio has a particularly Austrian feel to it, while the Finale returns to the urbanity of the opening movement. In both works, Haydn stands on the cusp of the greatness that would shortly burst forth in his ‘Paris’ Symphonies, and Antonini and the Basel players never miss a trick. Even in the three-movement Symphony no.19 in D major (a ‘comparatively unremarkable’ work according to the Oxford Composer Companion to Haydn), Antonini and his musicians breathe life into the briefest of phrases, shaping the music with an unerring feel for its hidden beauties. These are life-affirming performances, alert, vivacious yet deeply sensitive, and they bode well for future instalments.
The ‘man of genius’ tagline is actually from Haydn’s words of tribute to fellow composer Joseph Martin Kraus (1756-1792), who, like his exact contemporary Mozart, died young but not without leaving several works of undeniable greatness behind. His symphonies (which themselves pay tribute to Haydn) are particularly imposing, few more so than the three-movement C minor work included here as one of the related works that make this Haydn cycle so distinctive and fascinating. It is also probably the work that Kraus himself presented to Haydn when they met at Eszterháza in 1783. Kraus spent the height of his career in the service of the Swedish court, and he is sometimes referred to as the ‘Swedish Mozart’, but it is the Sturm und Drang mood of Haydn’s middle-period Eszterháza symphonies that hang over this sombre three-movement work, with a textural density that sets it apart from the other works on the disc. If you don’t already know Kraus’s music, you’re in for a treat here, and with so few recordings of his symphonies currently available, this superbly animated performance is an important addition to the catalogue in its own right.
Alpha’s presentation is as sumptuous as its recording. As with other volumes in this cycle, a selection of photographs complements the central theme: in this case, Stuart Franklin’s beautifully rendered colour shots of Florentine marble sculptures, including Michelangelo’s David as a perfect exemplar of Renaissance genius. It all adds up to a tremendously attractive package. When Antonini eventually completes this daunting task – as we fervently hope he will – it will surely be the pick of all Haydn symphony cycles. And, in the meantime, we can savour every minute of his journey.
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