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Joseph Haydn
Recommended Recordings



Haydn: Nelson Mass, etc
(Collegium Musicum; Richard Hickox, conductor)
Haydn's Masses represent a significant and musically potent aspect of his legacy. In Richard Hickox's ongoing series of recordings for Chandos, these works can be heard with both period-instrument precision and dramatic verve. The "Lord Nelson Mass" in particular comes through as the supremely beautiful statement that it is, filled with tension, richly contrapuntal webbings, and ultimate affirmation.

String Quartets, Op 76
(Tokyo String Quartet)
These quartets, Haydn's last great quartet collection, represent a peak of musical achievement that may have been equaled, but has never been surpassed. Haydn invented the string quartet way back in the 1750s, and by the time he came to write these works some 40 years later, his mastery was so natural and effortless that it's hardly noticeable. All you hear are the great tunes, dramatic surprises, fresh rhythms, and ever-new string textures. These immaculate performances by the Tokyo Quartet went a long way toward establishing it as one of the most exciting young string quartets to emerge in the past two decades, and they have been superbly recorded. A classic set, then, and essential listening. (David Hurwitz)

Symphonies 92, 94 & 96
(Cleveland Orchestra; George Szell, conductor)
Like so many great Mozart conductors, György Szell came to Haydn rather late in his career, but then found himself captivated by the music's wholly unique genius. Where Mozart likes long-breathed themes and balanced musical structures, Haydn prefers short, catchy motives and is a master of the unexpected. His orchestration, too, is sharper and more rhythmically defined than Mozart's is, with very free use of trumpets and drums. These three "name" symphonies represent Haydn at his best, and Szell responds with gusto to the music's wit and drama. Unlike so many conductors reared in the central European tradition, Szell never pulls any of Haydn's punches, allowing the winds and brass full play where required, but always within a finely honed stylistic framework. (review by David Hurwitz)

The Creation
(Walter Berry, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, et al; Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; Herbert von Karajan, conductor)
This classic performance of Haydn's greatest choral masterpiece was beloved tenor Fritz Wunderlich's last recording. He sings all of the arias, but he died before finishing the recitatives, which are here taken by Werner Krenn. The recording is, in addition, one of Herbert von Karajan's finest, vastly better than his later digital remake. His interpretation is straightforward and impressively large in scale, but never pompous or sanctimonious (which was Karajan's big problem in music of a religious character). The truth is, Haydn's consistently fresh and unpretentious invention acts as a positive anesthetic against bombast, and the composer himself once said that thinking of the Creator always made him irresistibly cheerful. With The Creation, Haydn returned the favor. (review by David Hurwitz)

Three Favorite Concertos
(Yo-Yo Ma, Wynton Marsalis, et al; English Chamber Orchestra, National Philharmonic Orchestra London, et al; José Luis Garcia, Raymond Leppard, et al, conducting)
This excellent disc brings together three superb performances of three of Haydn's best concertos. As a composer, Haydn wasn't really interested in the concerto as a form. He was the inventor of the classical symphony, and the entire orchestra was his instrument. For although he played violin, viola, keyboard, and timpani, he wasn't known as an outstanding virtuoso on any of them. This makes him the first truly professional composer (as opposed to a performer who composed) in the history of music. Even Mozart and Beethoven were pianists first, and composers second. It's also not surprising, then, that when he turned to the concerto he preferred less common instruments, like solo parts for cello or trumpet. He even wrote a concerto for double bass, alas lost. But we have these three great works to console us. (review by David Hurwitz)

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