Review by: David Hurwitz
Artistic Quality: 9
Sound Quality: 6
Eduard van Beinum’s Haydn performances are old-fashioned, in the sense that you won’t hear much “period-style” aggression from trumpets and drums (except for a very surprising “surprise” in the eponymous symphony), and exposition repeats are largely (but not entirely) conspicuous by their absence. Still, great playing is great playing, and these joyous and stylish interpretations contain plenty of that. First, there are those fabled Concertgebouw winds, forwardly balanced and crystal clear. Whenever flutes or oboes double the first violin line (and they do that often in Haydn) the change in timbre registers like the outline of some sort of musical highlighter pen. Tempos are always judiciously chosen: the minuets don’t drag, the andantes flow, and if the allegros aren’t as swift as in some modern performances, razor-sharp articulation provides the necessary energy and muscularity more effectively than sheer speed.
Just listen to the punchy opening allegro of Symphony No. 96. The rhythm is so tight that the music at times sounds like a reworking by Stravinsky in the style of Pulcinella, and that’s not a criticism. Rather, it’s an aspect of Haydn’s perennial freshness and modernity entirely apart from pedantic considerations of “period practice”. Only the finale of Symphony No. 97 might strike some listeners as slightly tame. However, Beinum’s pacing and phrasing of the “Surprise” symphony’s tricky andante alone is worth the price of the disc.
There’s no need to go further into the finer details of the performances, which are remarkably consistent in their approach. Haydn symphonies demand that the conductor and orchestra play with maximum personality, and that’s just what you get here: a really vivid feeling of witty musical dialog. The mono sonics are perfectly acceptable, and since none of these recordings made it into either of Universal’s five-disc sets devoted to this conductor, their reissue here constitutes an exciting addition to the Beinum/Concertgebouw discography.
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Recording Details:Reference Recording: None for this coupling
JOSEPH HAYDN - Symphonies Nos. 92 "Surprise"; 96 "Miracle" & 97