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David Threasher
Gramophone, September 2012

HAYDN: Symphonies, Vol. 5 (Nos. 85, 92, 103) 8.550387
HAYDN, J.: Symphonies (Complete) (34 CD Box set) 8.503400

Barry Wordsworth’s 1990 performance with Naxos’s Bratislava-based works band Cappella Istropolitana represents fine value at that label’s tempting price-point… © 2012 Gramophone Read complete review on Gramophone

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, March 2009

HAYDN, J.: Piano Sonatas (Complete) (Jandó) (10 CD Box set) 8.501042
HAYDN, J.: Symphonies (Complete) (34 CD Box set) 8.503400


It’s been quite a journey so far, and looking back on the countless hours of pleasure that this vast undertaking has yielded, truly the experience of a lifetime. There are manifold delights this collection has afforded me.

The consistent uniformity of Jenö Jandó’s pianism is a marvel: there is never a moment of less than superb musicianship throughout his traversal. Having enjoyed his performances of all the Mozart concertos as well, I’m tempted to join him on an all-Beethoven Sonatas adventure. I felt much the same way about the compelling Kodály Quartet’s collection of 25 CDs: they never falter, their enthusiasm and perfect intonation are truly a wonder.

With the symphonies, it is a bit of a mixed bag. There is no getting away from the fact that several, especially the early ones, are hastily cobbled together and do not reflect much inspiration. However, even weak tea can be made more palatable with an enthusiastic and imaginative execution. My favourite among the half-dozen ensembles sharing this enterprise are the Toronto Chamber Orchestra led by Kevin Mallon, with Helmut Mueller Bruehl’s Cologne Chamber Orchestra a close second. Yet none of the others—even where drawn from Naxos earlier releases—is less than adequate, and all benefit from superb reproduction. I am now looking forward to the 6 CD concerto collection, due in April.

Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, February 2009

This mammoth survey of the complete Symphonies by the man who really got things going symphonically, started in 1988 and finished as recently as July last year. It takes in venues all over eastern and western Europe as well as Canada.

Before playing a disk I was happy to note that we weren’t reliant on one set of performers—as was Decca with its set of the Symphonies with Antal Doráti and the Philharmonia Hungarica—and as these re-issues retain their original couplings you can’t hear the works chronologically without changing disks often. But this makes for more interesting programming—rather like the lovely recordings of Leslie Jones and his Little Orchestra of London’s recordings for Pye which mixed early, middle and late Symphonies together on one LP…I find it fascinating at the distribution of the music, for instance, there’s only one disk by the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, but there’s six by the Northern Chamber Orchestra and eight each by the Cologne Chamber Orchestra and the Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia. I mention this because the Swedish disk is marvellous, comprising three Symphonies from the middle of the canon—Nos. 50, 51 and 52—in performances which are suave and perfectly paced. These are an excellent example of how to perform music of this period—nothing is hurried, everything falls perfectly into place and there is a fine sense of style. No.50 is a real winner. Here is Haydn, having emerged from the troubles of the Sturm und Drang period, in a more mature guise than we have so far heard him, indulging in jokes and jests and generally having an high old time…The Sinfonia Finlandia is allocated three disks and two of them comprise nine of the first 12 Symphonies so, with no disrespect to Haydn, it doesn’t have the best material to work with. That said, it plays these early pieces with a style and verve which I wouldn’t have expected…What a fine chamber orchestra the Sinfonia Finlandia is, and their contribution to this set is made all the more significant by their strong advocacy of the very early works.

I’d never heard of the Toronto Camerata before receiving this set. It’s a good small band with bright strings and brilliant winds and brass. Kevin Mallon is a good conductor and directs unfussy performances of, mainly, early Symphonies. He certainly understands the challenges this music sets—it’s new, in a fledgling form and is still feeling its way forwards and as there’s no deep emotion with which to impress your audience, you don’t make big production numbers out of them…The six CDs by the Northern Chamber Orchestra cover the canon from the earliest (Nos 6, 7 and 8) to No.79. Highlights include a splendid account of No.22, with fabulous horns and cor anglais, the right tone is hit from the start and this, sometimes, dour work—it is quite dark—comes out fresh and sparkling. This is very impressive. There’s also some fine solo string playing in the three early works. There is a real swagger to the outer movements of No.35, and a suavity to the slow movement. No.49 starts with a slow movement filled with heartbreaking pathos, the two fast movements are full of the stresses and strains found in these Sturm und Drang works, and both are fast paced manic performances…The final two orchestras—the Cologne Chamber Orchestra and the Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia —each have eight disks, encompassing nearly half the canon…the performances by the Cologne Chamber Orchestra, highlights include a tremendous performance of the finale of No.54, and a gorgeous slow movement in No.57, full of poise and restraint. No.75 is as good as it gets in these Cologne performances, spritely outer movements, a delightful slow movement and a minuet which nicely dances along, and the japes of No.80 are truly side splitting!…And so to the eight CDs by Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia under the direction of Béla Drahos. Things get off to a bright start with a sparkling No.27, and the Hornsignal is quite marvellous, with forthright horns, sounding much more romantic and Schumannesque than Haydnesque but making the most of their exhilarating writing. There is a disturbing edginess to parts of the first movement of No.53—one of the first works after the Sturm und Drang period—so Drahos is quite right to point the hangover effect of the earlier pieces. Other highlights of the Drahos CDs are the slow movement of No.68, which displays a rapt attention to detail, the 1st movement of No.73 which has lots of mystery and excitement and the first movement of No.93 which, if a trifle hard driven, has exactly the right spirit for the music. However, I do question the validity of the use of harpsichord continuo in No.72—by 1781 Haydn would undoubtedly have stopped using a keyboard continuo in his works.

I’ve kept the best until last. The Laudon Symphony (No. 69) must be sampled for this is simply the best interpretation of the set—it has everything and is exactly how later Haydn should be presented to the public…I can heartily recommend this set for anyone interested in this great composer, who does seem to languish in Mozart’s shadow more than he should. With such good sound, in general, at the price this constitutes a considerable bargain…you won’t be disappointed with this set. Happy listening.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, January 2009

HAYDN, J.: Concertos (Complete) (Cologne Chamber Orchestra, Muller-Bruhl) (6 CD Box set) 8.506019
HAYDN, J.: Piano Sonatas (Complete) (Jando) (10 CD Box set) 8.501042
HAYDN, J.: String Quartets (Complete) (Kodaly Quartet) (25 CD Box set) 8.502400
HAYDN, J.: Symphonies (Complete) (34 CD Box set) 8.503400

Continuing to luxuriate in all the sonatas, string quartets and symphonies, I had to resist the temptation to cherry-pick favourites. Instead, alternating between the three genres gives one a much better grasp of this great musical genius’ methodology. One gets to hear the organic growth and development of forms that have become the foundation of all music that followed.

I’ve been a Haydn lover since early childhood, yet listening to this treasure-trove makes me realise how little I really know! So when a familiar piece comes along, it brings a smile of recognition. Given the biographical facts of Haydn’s employment and career also helps put matters in perspective, for yes, there are some works that reveal haste (or lack of inspiration, if you will), but these are few and far between. The man’s craftsmanship and professionalism cover such lapses, as do the superb performances by the various performers, aided by the excellent overall all-digital recordings. For even more variety, I’m looking forward to the complete concertos, due for release in February 2009.

David Threasher
Gramophone, January 2009

Let joy be unconfined! Roll out the bunting, and slaughter the fatted calf! …The reason for all the joy? Haydn Year, marking the bicentenary of the composer’s death, for which a slew of issues has already been brought forward in celebration (or, more properly, commemoration). And the greatest prize in this rich harvest? Naxos’s completion (at long last) of their cycle of the complete symphonies, which has appeared disc by disc over the past 20 years. This now joins the pioneering set from the late 1960s and early 1970s by Antal Dorati and the Philharmonia Hungarica, still in the Decca lists (if not the shops), and the Nimbus cycle by Adam Fischer and the Austro­Hungarian Haydn Orchestra, which ran from the late 1980s through the 1990s and is better known in its single-box super—budget incarnation from Brilliant Classics…Naxos’s approach has been different from Decca’s or Nimbus’s. Instead of entrusting the complete corpus­106 symphonies including “A” and “B” plus the late Sinfonia concertante and sundry overtures to a single orchestra, six orchestras have been involved, spanning locations as exotic as Toronto, Cologne, Bratislava, Jyväskylä and Manchester. So naturally there are differences in timbre and musical approach…The best playing, however, by and large comes from Bela Drahos and the Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia, a band, like Dorati’s and Fischer’s, convened from the finest of Hungary’s orchestral musicians…Drahos’s fine string body comes into its own in some of the later symphonies, such as No 69 in C (the Laudon), a much-maligned work of no small accomplishment and charm. It’s the finale that attracts most interest in this work, with its sudden swerve into minor-key counterpoint subverting its playful two-part opening gambit, all handled with suitable gravitas and drama by the Hungarians. In No 73 in D (La chasse), too, there is a true sense of dynamism as the bows bite into the strings; apt tempi as well, until the hinting finale, which is more of a trot than a gallop., December 2008

There is so much right in the music and the performances in this massive set…all the orchestras are small in size and skilled in playing, and the now-pervasive understanding of performance practices of Haydn’s time means that every single version of a symphony here is idiomatic and nicely conceived—even without being played on period instruments. Furthermore, the use of a single orchestra and conductor for a Haydn cycle does not guarantee uniformity of approach: Adam Fischer’s fine 33-CD cycle with the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra (available on Brilliant Classics) was recorded over a 14-year period, and interpretations on the earlier recordings differ significantly in style and emphasis from those made later; besides which, the makeup of the orchestra—and its performance practices—changed during those 14 years as well. (Fischer himself has said that by the end of the cycle he would have liked to go back and do the earlier part again, using what he had learned between start and finish.)…This boxed set does have some bonus items that make it more attractive. The fact is that Haydn wrote symphonies or symphony-like works in addition to the accepted 104 that bear sequential numbers, and some of those rarely heard works are scattered among these CDs. The Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat, sometimes called Symphony No. 105, is on CD 4, and Symphonies Nos. 107 and 108 (also known as symphonies A and B) are on CD 22, along with a couple of bonus overtures (to La vera costanza and Lo speziale)—although there is nothing designated Symphony No. 106, and no explanation for the missing work (only one part of a symphony given that number has survived)…On a strictly musical basis, the set is top-notch, with all the ensembles and conductors having a fine sense of Haydn’s style and all the orchestras being the right size for the music—and versed in playing it appropriately.

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, November 2008

HAYDN, J.: Piano Sonatas (Complete) (Jando) (10 CD Box set) 8.501042
HAYDN, J.: String Quartets (Complete) (Kodaly Quartet) (25 CD Box set) 8.502400
HAYDN, J.: Symphonies (Complete) (34 CD Box set) 8.503400

Joseph Haydn died in 1809, and to honour this 200 year occasion, Naxos has assembled a monumental anthology of virtually every significant instrumental work that this great pillar of classical music had ever composed. Just released are the 62 piano sonatas on 10 CDs (8.501042), 76 string quartets (plus The Seven Last Words on the Cross) on 25 CDs (8.502400), and the symphonies, including the Sinfonia Concertante, some attributed symphonies, and addenda to the Hoboken Catalogue, also on 25 CDs (8.503400). The Concertos occupy a “mere” 6 CDs (8.506019); Haydn was not a virtuoso pianist-composer like Mozart or Beethoven, who wrote their sonatas and concertos for their own performance. He composed most of his concerted works for musicians he knew or employed in his capacity as music director of various court orchestras.

Classical music lovers are not a majority of CD buyers—far from it. Yet there are enough people with ‘old-fashioned’ tastes like us to sustain what was once the mainstay of the music industry. Also in the minority are serious music students, the up-and-coming next generation of performing artists. But here again, if not exactly a tidal wave of musically-inclined young people, there are enough of them to ensure that good music practices continue—as can be seen in the exciting new young faces that grace the world’s concert stages.

At a time when discretionary spending is closely scrutinised, great bargains are sought more than ever. Your humble servant has been collecting classical music recordings far longer than most readers of these lines have been around. Without the slightest hesitation, I can state that never in the history of recorded music has there been an offering of such value and artistic and technical excellence as is this Haydn bicentennial celebration series. Other labels have had their Bach, Mozart and Beethoven commemorative series, but at premium prices and not nearly as elegantly nor coveniently packaged as are these treasures from Naxos, which is now the uncontested world leader in affordable classical music recordings…The recordings are all digital, and Naxos has not skimped on lengths: the average CD contains well over an hour of music. That works out to pennies per masterpiece!

Let’s have a look at the recordings, beginning with the sonatas. These are all performed by Jeno Jando, a familiar name on Naxos, for he is a true musical chameleon, at home in all periods (I cherish his idiomatic readings of all the Mozart piano concertos). The Quartets, likewise, are performed by the excellent Kodaly Quartet. The Symphonies are culled from the huge Naxos catalogue and are performed by various excellent orchestras, prominent among them the Cologne Chamber Orchestra, led by Helmut Mueller-Bruehl, for whose work I have a decades-long admiration. Likewise the concertos.

In time for the holiday gift-giving season, I for one cannot think of better ones—gifts that will last forever and keep on giving a lifetime of great music.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group