Haydn Symphonies Nos. 57, 67, 68

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Nicholas McGegan
Philharmonia Baroque Productions PBP-08

A colleague once said that the best Haydn symphony was the one that he had heard last. This has worked for me over the years, with very few exceptions, and certainly I found this dictum true again in Nicholas McGegan’s selection of these three symphonies. Haydn’s creative imagination never ceases to astound. A simple variation movement (57/2) with of a theme of just three notes with a simple I-V7-I harmony held me spellbound. Haydn uses interesting innovations of col legno (67/2) and even scordatura (67/3), with a solo second violin playing a drone on the G string tuned down to F accompanying the first violin solo playing in dizzying heights (up to a top B flat). Haydn unusually places his Minuetto before his Adagio in No. 68, the latter lasting over 12 minutes – as long as the same movement in Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, for example. Of course, the finales of all three will never cease to delight the listener. The symphonies of the 1770s don’t always get the attention they deserve, and it is good that these works have here got such a special airing on period instruments. The Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra is on top form under McGegan’s direction, and so, for Haydn lovers, this CD is a must. Which is the best of the three? The last one I put on!

Ian Graham-Jones