Music Reviews

Back to the sound of Happy Times?

With so many artists and recording companies gracing their audiences with new and often inventive musical projects, each vying for the attention of the educated listeners’ ears, it is once in a while a pleasure to go down memory lane and realize that some music doesn’t age. Haydn’s Musical Time Triptych is one of them. 

To charm and impress his employer, Prince Paul Anton Esterházy, Haydn wrote three attractive ‘symphony-concertantes’ allowing individual members of the Esterházy Court Orchestra to excel. Now, over two and a half centuries later, these symphonies are as alive as at all times and continue to please global audiences albeit that tastes and sizes of orchestras have varied from the massive romantic slowness of Ferdinand Leitner (re-issued on the Profil Medien label) to the engaging excitement of Giovanni Antonini (Alpha Classics). 

Authentic is de rigueur

For this kind of repertoire, authenticity is now more than ever a must. Going through the list of recent recordings, some of the best follow historical practices. Florilegium emulates as much as possible the Esterházy Court Orchestra. Not only with a similar complement of 18 players but also by using (copied) historical instruments. Textures become much leaner and cleaner. Flautist Ashley Solomon subtly directs his players, inspiring the spontaneity of virtuoso music-making like it must have been done in those days at the Court of Prince Paul Anton.

Picture from the recording session.

A perfect example of noble entertainment

What I like so much about British period bands is their sense of restrained teamwork, seldom galloping away to show off what they think they are individually able to do. I was pleased to note that Solomon ably avoids being trapped in a game of overdoing things, like cranking up speeds, leaving sufficient room for the soloist to shine, without setting them apart. 

Although I have no preference for any of the three, the Middle of the Day (No. 7) with a simply stunning slow movement, reveals the full bloom of the orchestral playing. Solos are beautifully embedded in the overall concertante fabric, thus amplifying the wonderful musical symbiosis of eighteen musicians working enthusiastically together for a common ambition. 

At the End of the Day (No. 8) the colours darken and listening to the final movement it dawned on me that one hasn’t got to go to extremes to be good. Solomon’s ‘La Tempesta’ is a wholly plausible evening storm. 

Without being disrespectful, one might say that Florilegium give us entertainment at a superior level. It’s classy, it’s noble, it’s perfect. This is a reading that can proudly stand on its own. 

But … it’s the sound that wins the day

Looking once more at the list of available recordings, one notes that not only recent HIP releases but also older recordings on modern instruments have fetched very positive reviews indeed. Was it for the performance or the composition? Probably both and in equal measure. More than sufficient options for diverging tastes. But also proof of music that withstood the ages and preferences. Difficult to choose? Not quite because this latest Channel Classics recording offers something none of the others can: Delivering top performances of all three in the best high-resolution surround sound. On condition though that it is sourced from a proper download platform as the physical format is CD only! 

Blangy le Château, Normandy, France.

Copyright © 2023 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net

Post photo by Jan Huber.

Written by

Adrian Quanjer

Adrian Quanjer is a site reviewer at HRAudio, with many years of experience in classical music. He writes from his country retreat at Blangy-le-Château, France. As a regular concertgoer, he prefers listening to music in the highest possible resolution to recreate similar involvement at home. He is eager to share his thoughts with like-minded melomaniacs at NativeDSD.

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