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American Record Guide, December 2006

I've been generally pleased with the Naxos Haydn symphony series as it has unfolded. The performances have ranged from decent to quite good. Still, I was not prepared for the electricity here (the 31st in the project). If Naxos had entrusted its series to these artists from the outset, I would probably have written 30 reviews to date telling listeners to forget all competition and not bother with any future reviews, that all they had to do was buy these discs as they came out and listen happily.

This really is that good.

Before it arrived, I'd never heard of Mallon or his Toronto ensemble before. My loss. The instrumentalists (modern instruments) play with spirit and energy and lovely tone, and Mallon guides them perfectly.

18 and 19 are three-movement works with slow movements (the first in 18, the second in 19) that look forward to their more extended descendants in Haydn's later works. Haydn's slow movements, like his minor-key minuet trios, are always compelling. 20 is a trumpet­and-drums C-major symphony in four movements. It sounds huge after the previous two works and full of massive power after the lean energy of the others. 21 has lovely string writing, sometimes seeming to anticipate the leaping energy of the finale of 49 (La Passione).

The recorded sound is lovely, and Naxos offers decent notes.

James H. North
Fanfare, November 2006

Kevin Mallon led Haydn's Symphonies Nos. 14-17 on a Naxos disc reviewed in our previous issue; everything I said in the first paragraph of that review applies here too (except that there are trumpets and timpani in the C-Major Symphony): modem instruments but period attitudes, strings 9/3/2/1, all repeats, lively recorded sound.

The G-Major is one of the Haydn's earliest symphonies (probably his third), written when he was employed by Count Morzin. It is a three-movement work in the old sonata da chiesa style. It opens with a gentle Andante moderato, followed by an energetic Allegro molto, and closes with a Menuet. Nevertheless, it is recognizably Haydn, filled with his unmistakable charm and animation. This performance is every bit as fine as my preferred period-instrument recording, by Derek Solomons's L'estro armonico. Nos. 19 and 20 were also written for Count Morzin; the D-Major's three movements are in Haydn's newer style: Allegro molto, Andante, and Presto.

Symphony No. 20 has four movements, three of them written in Haydn's riproaring C-Major style. The trumpets and drums are too much for the reverberant acoustics of the Toronto church, not only drowning out strings and oboes, but also blurring their own notes. The early C-Major symphonies work better with horns in C-alt instead of trumpets, as can be heard in the Goberman recording of No. 20. Too bad, because Mallon's ensemble is exceptionally fine in the string-only Andante cantabile.

The A-Major Symphony is a much later work, written in 1764, and it shows. Like the better­known No. 22, "The Philosopher," it opens with an Adagio; this one is particularly colorful, employing oboes and horns with and without strings. A Presto, Menuet, and Allegro molto follow. This stretch of symphonies (Nos. 21-23) displays the composer at the top of his form; none of them need bow before any of the later works, and all are must-haves in any Haydn collection. Mallon and his Toronto troops do this one proud, giving a wonderfully vivacious, flavorful performance. The Adagio is taken rather rapidly-not quite an Andante-but it works very well at this tempo. Such a performance more than compensates for the problems with No. 20 and earns this disc an enthusiastic recommendation.

Geoff Bennett
Limelight, October 2006

The Naxos cycle of Haydn's symphonies has whirled us around the world, with orchestras from Bratislava, Hungary, Cologne, Sweden, Finland and the UK taking part. Volume 31 is the second in the series to feature a Canadian ensemble which draws its members from several of the city's major orchestras. The Toronto Chamber Orchestra have already made ten recordings for this label, focusing on a variety of 18th century repertoire, which they perform with freshness and panache, under the direction of their Irish-born conductor Kevin Mallon. Haydn's Symphonies Nos. 18-21 are fresh, inventive works. The first three were written around 1759, when Haydn was enjoying his first regular employment as music director to Count Morzin (he even threw additional trumpets and timpani into No. 20) and No. 21 in A dates from the start of his Esterhazy period. The performances are immediately appealing and obviously well-prepared. The clean, precise strings handle the open acoustic well and are nicely balanced with the rest of the ensemble, including the effectively placed harpsichord. A highly recommendable addition to this budget-priced Naxos senes.

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