MusicWeb

Thu 8 Sep 2005

Haydn: Sinfonia Finlandia/Patrick Gallois

The mammoth Naxos project to record the complete Haydn symphonies must by now be in the final stage...Now we can add Patrick Gallois with the wholly admirable Sinfonia Finlandia, whose artistic director he has been since 2003. Joseph HAYDN
Symphonies 9-12. Volume 32
Sinfonia Finlandia/Patrick Gallois

The mammoth Naxos project to record the complete Haydn symphonies must by now be in the final stage. It started as early as March 1988 with Barry Wordsworth conducting symphonies Nos. 82, 96 and 100. After that a number of conductors have been involved, notably Nicholas Ward for the early works and for the rest Helmut Müller-Brühl and Bela Drahos. Now we can add Patrick Gallois with the wholly admirable Sinfonia Finlandia, whose artistic director he has been since 2003.

This project is not without precedents. Max Goberman planned to record all the symphonies with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra, but he died before he had time to finish the enterprise. Antal Dorati on the other hand brought things to a successful close. His Decca set is a worthy tribute to this versatile conductor, even though there may be individual discs and sets that trump his efforts. Then there is Adam Fischer’s cycle for Nimbus and then Brilliant. The issues in the Naxos series that I have heard have been consistently good, middle-of-the-road readings. The general standard has been high and therefore the issues can be confidently recommended to those wanting to plug holes in their Haydn collection.

The present issue is something more than that. It is a well-known fact that the general standard of Finnish orchestras is high. The spate of talented conductors emanating from Suomi is to no little degree a result of the first-class municipal orchestras, some of them semi-professional, that can be found all over the country. They provide rich opportunities for up-coming talents to practise their craft. I used to get, twice a year, an omnibus catalogue covering all the orchestral activities in Finland; this made impressive reading.

On this disc we encounter Sinfonia Finlandia, or Jyväskylä Sinfonia as it is known in Finland. It has its home in Jyväskylä in central Finland, about 270 kilometres north of Helsinki. The town has around 85,000 inhabitants and has a university with seven faculties. In Scandinavia the town is best known for the claims that the Nordic Santa Claus (Jultomten) comes from there. The Sinfonia has 38 members, tours widely and collaborates closely with the Jyväskylä Opera. Judging from this issue the orchestra is a superb ensemble, homogenous and virtuosic. There is an energy and rhythmic vitality in this recording that is completely irresistible.

The music in itself is also enormously attractive. It may be early Haydn, but early Haydn does not imply bad Haydn or immature Haydn or less-than-original Haydn. Of the Haydn symphonies I have collected through the years – by no means all of them but still a respectable amount – there is not one single specimen that lacks the stamp of inspiration. Of the present four only one (No. 11) is in four movements and none of them exceeds twenty minutes in playing time. That said, there is nothing slight about them.

I can’t believe, to take an isolated example, that anyone listening to the first movement of Symphony No. 9 would fail to be infected by the vitality, the spring in the step and the forward thrust. This is music with loads of energy. The Andante, as played here, is certainly a young man’s movement and the Minuet also dances youthfully – but with grace.

If there is one piece that can be seen as fairly run-of-the-mill it is No. 10 but it also has its points. No. 11 opens unusually with a slow movement, an Andante cantabile. In his late symphonies Haydn quite often has a slow introduction to the first movement but then follows the movement proper in a quick tempo.

In No. 12 Gallois admirably brings out the dynamic contrasts in a dynamic reading. The central movement, marked Adagio, seems to be personally significant for Haydn. It is elegiac and in sharp contrast to anything else on the disc. It is also the longest movement and with the surrounding two movements together playing for little more than the Adagio one get a feeling that this holds up a mirror to the composer’s innermost feelings.

With music-making of this order, recorded with clarity and atmosphere, no one should hesitate to acquire this disc. Never mind that none of the symphonies here has a nickname.
Göran Forsling