Haydn: Les Heures du Jour

Haydn 2032, vol. 10
Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini
Alpha Classics Alpha 686

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For the latest instalment (the tenth) in their superb cycle of Haydn symphonies, Giovanni Antonini and his Il Giardino Armonico turn their attention to the earliest of Haydn’s symphonies to have retained a regular place in the affections of the composer’s admirers. In part, this is almost certainly due to the programmatic context of the trilogy, each of which bears a title devoted to the times of the day: morning, noon and evening. Yet equally special is the extraordinary concertante element in the three works, which could almost be thought of as an updated version of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.

An explanation for the profusion of solo passages can be found in the background to the symphonies, which date from 1761, the year in which Haydn was appointed vice-Kapellmeister to Prince Anton Esterházy. That year also coincided with the expansion of the group of chamber musicians employed by the prince to a full orchestra including a number of exceptional musicians. It seems the idea for an orchestral work that colourfully depicted a storm came from Esterházy himself and Haydn not only duly obliged in the final movement of ‘Le Soir’, in which we hear the first raindrops, thunder and then the full force of the storm, but added two further symphonies enabling him to exploit to the full the capabilities of the new orchestra. This Haydn did by providing both his wind and string players with numerous opportunities to shine in the many solos he gives them over the course of the trilogy.

Perhaps one of the most memorable programmatic moments occurs right at the start with the slow introduction to ‘Le Matin’, a depiction of a sunrise from the first rays, here barely heard, followed by a crescendo which spellbindingly builds dissonance upon dissonance. In Antonini’s hands it’s a wonderfully controlled breath-taking moment, dispelled only by the brightness of the morning’s sunny, cheerful allegro, led by the first of a number of outstandingly played flute solos. Among other special moments in a set of works teeming with incident is the highly original slow movement of ‘Le Midi’, cast as a full-scale opera seria accompagato recitative followed by an expressive adagio aria. The recitative starts out broadly, but bursts into a highly dramatic central section before again subsiding to more contemplative mood that leads to the aria, largely a duet between violin and cello, but also incorporating other solos.

The performances maintain the near exemplary standard that has been a hallmark of the entire series. Outstanding playing, superbly balanced orchestral sound, swinging between exhilarating, full-blooded verve and the most delicate, filigree textures, they are in the main also beautifully paced.  Antonini avoids the trap of taking final movements too fast, which would obscure some of the many points they have to make. Only in the case of the bassoon-coloured Andante (ii) of ‘Le Soir’ did I feel the tempo might be a little slow, but it is so lovely, with wonderful contributions from the solo cello, that to make too much of it would be excessively ungrateful.

In keeping with previous issues there is an addition to the symphonies, in this case Mozart’s well-known Serenade in D, ‘Serenata Notturna’, obviously an appropriate encore to a group of works concerned with times of day. Its three movements are as stylishly conveyed as would be expected, the timpani that give the first movement in particularly that feeling of mocking pomp crisply played. The final movement is played with a great sense of fun, with what sound like spontaneous and witty embellishments adding to a sheer joie de vivre that Mozart would surely have relished.

In sum little more need be said. If you’re following this series you’ll need no encouragement from me to add this CD to the collection. If you’re not, well, it’s time you were!

Brian Robins

Sheet music

Rosetti: Der sterbende Jesus

Recent Researches in the Music of the Classical Era, 114
Edited by Sterling E. Murray
xx, 4 plates, 227pp.
ISBN 978-1-9872-0335-6. $320

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Though perhaps best known nowadays as a composer of symphonies, concertos and partitas, Antonio Rosetti (who was born in Bohemia, spent years of his early life in St Petersburg, then Wallerstein before dying, aged only 42, a mere two years after being appointed Kapellmeister in Schwerin) also wrote some impressive vocal music.

Der sterbende Jesus is a passion-oratorio in the tradition of Graun’s Der Tod Jesu. The four characters (a soprano as Mary, St John who was sung by a tenor, an alto as Joseph of Arimathea and Jesus himself, bass) are accompanied by a fairly large orchestra of flute, 2 oboes, bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets with timps, and strings. The work is a sequence of recitatives and arias, interspersed with movements called “Chorale” in which a four-voice is accompanied by the woodwinds (including horns) and others labelled “Chorus” in which the whole ensemble performs. There are elements of narrative drama, but essentially it is a series of reflections initially on Jesus’s death but ultimately in his triumph over death, and that sense of a glorious overcoming of the “power of the grave” is skilfully captured in Rosetti’s final chorus. Music by the lesser masters of this period is often overlooked because of the perceived superiority of their illustrious contemporaries, Haydn and Mozart. On the evidence of this score, Rosetti’s vocal music certainly ought to be better known; the parts he wrote for Mary and St John is particularly demanding.

A-R Editions continue to champion repertoire that has been ignored for too long. Someone, let’s have a recording!

Brian Clark



Boccherini: Complete Flute Quintets

Rafael Ruibérriz de Torres, Francisco de Goya String Quartet
158:29 (3 CDs)
Brilliant Classics 96074

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Luigi Boccherini composed three sets of six flute quintets – namely his opera 17, 19 and 55 – the two earliest sets in 1773 and 1774, just after his appointment as chamber musician to Prince Luis Antonio de Bourbón in Spain. The two early sets, the product of a thirty-year-old composer, have a delightful freshness and individuality to them, with the flute playing the ensemble role of a primus inter pares rather than dominating the texture with virtuosity. The nevertheless demanding flute writing suggests the presence in the royal circle of a player of considerable technical and musical ability, but sadly he or she has not as yet been identified. Boccherini’s reputation (in my opinion undeserved) as a composer of slight and often superficial music is belied but this constantly imaginative and beautifully crafted music, which is played with enormous flair on period instruments by flautist Rafael Ruibérriz de Torres with the  Francisco de Goya String Quartet. There is a wonderful sense of ensemble, as well as a witty and fruitful interaction among the players, bringing out the full charm and elegance of Boccherini’s music. Twenty-five years later, inspired by the flautist Gaspar Barli Boccherini returned to the flute quartet, composing his opus 55 set in 1797. What a lot has changed since the earlier sets! Boccherini has made the subtle but significant stylistic move from galant to classical, while he has fully embraced his adopted Spanish heritage, including no fewer than three fandangos in the set, as well as adopting a notably folk-related idiom elsewhere. He is also less coy about letting individual instruments, most notably the flute and his own cello, step out of the more homogenous textures into the spotlight. The result is music that sounds much more profound and rhetorically powerful, and the performers rise magnificently to the challenge with highly eloquent performances. Recorded in two dramatically contrasting venues (namely a church and a recording studio), the Brilliant engineers do a very fine job in creating the same lively and sympathetic acoustic for all three CDs, and the tone of the period strings and Signor de Torres’ Wenner copy of an 18th-century Grenser flute is captured extremely vividly. This is a delightful set of recordings, adding valuably to our impressions of Boccherini as a composer of imagination and substance.

D. James Ross


Sarah Willis : Mozart Mambo

Sarah Willis, Havana Lyceum Orchestra, José Padrón etc
Alpha 578

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I suspect your reaction to this CD will depend on your response to the question posed on the back of the package ‘Mozart combined with traditional Cuban music: do these two go together?’ The answer given is unsurprisingly ‘Absolutely!’ As someone who loves and plays Mozart frequently, as well as loving and playing mambo music, I would never dream of mixing to two, and I’m afraid this CD confirms my decision. We have Sarah Willis playing modern horn with the Havana Lyceum Orchestra in inoffensive performances of the K 370b movement and the K371 Rondo for Horn and Orchestra, as well as the complete K447 Concerto. We also have spirited accounts of orchestral arrangements of actual mambos, which have the usual pros and cons of such reworkings, but then we have further mambos based on Mozart melodies from Eine kleine Nachtmusik and the K447 Concerto. If this is your kind of thing, then you will undoubtedly be happy sashaying along to this – I wasn’t and I didn’t. Sometimes such genre-blurring can be a revelation, but I fear this CD seems a bit of an indulgence. I was left wondering who is going to buy it. Fans of Mozart’s horn music can easily find more convincing and thought-provoking performances, while serious mambists are surely going to feel the performances here rather tame.

D. James Ross