Thursday, October 22, 2009

This week I listened to Haydn

Haydn: Symphonies nos.35, 38, 39 & 59
English Concert/Trevor Pinnock

Haydn: Theresienmesse, Kleine Orgelmesse
Collegium Musicum 90/Richard Hickox

Haydn: Keyboard sonatas nos.1-9
Ronald Brautigam

Haydn: String quartets op.33 nos.1, 2 & 4
The Lindsays

It's about time I made a proper start on the various box sets I bought this year. Rather than dipping in for an occasional listen, this week I devoted my full attention to the first disc in each of the 3 sets, plus a string quartet album, one of several Lindsays recordings I downloaded from somewhat crappy site We7, back when they gave stuff away free (with ads stuck in front of each track, which of course can be removed). So I got quite a cross-section of Haydn's work: the sonatas are from the 1750s/early 1760s, the symphonies from the late 1760s, the quartets from 1781, and the masses from 1782 and 1799.
It's probably not surprising that the lightest, least consequential music is found among the early keyboard works (entertaining, all right, but collectively they do tend to go past like so many floats in a parade), and the biggest, most imposing work is the late Theresienmesse, so called because it was composed for the Empress Marie Therese. Actually it wasn't composed for her, but it's stuck with the name anyway. The highlight for me is the bipartite Agnus Dei: it starts very dark and troubled, but the Dona nobis pacem section is remarkably confident. The companion work on the disc is the Kleine Orgelmesse, quite a short work, partly because - I didn't know this - in masses for ordinary church services, composers were allowed set the Gloria and Credo "polytextually"; in other words, various sections of the text would be sung simultaneously, so they could get through the music quicker! The two longest bits here are the Benedictus and Agnus Dei, though, which kind of holds things up near the end.
Going back to names, the string quartet op.33 no.2 is known as the Joke quartet, the joke being that you never know when the damn thing's going to end. Actually the finale of no.4's pretty funny too: it seems to be heading to a lively ending, then suddenly becomes very hesitant, reluctant even, and ends, almost embarrassed, in pizzicato, as if the players are trying to tiptoe out unnoticed.
The great thing for the listener when it comes to works like Haydn's symphonies, especially, is just how much good stuff there is - three obvious examples on the disc I listened to being the baroque-sounding Andante of no.38 (are those cuckoos in there?), the stormy opening of no.39 (in G minor, like Mozart's no.40), and the joy of no.59's finale, complete with horn calls. This is Classical music at its best.

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