Fanfare

These are reissues of earlier analog stereo recordings, and the recorded sound shows its age. The vocal works were recorded in Paris’s Salle Wigram in 1978; balances are excellent and solo vocal lines clear, but the chorus suffers from some distortion and their whole is dry and a bit gritty, with little sense of life or lift. All of which fits with the performance of the Stabat mater , which is careful and accurate but short on feeling. Despite the conductor’s local reputation as a Haydn specialist, the orchestra is a modern-instrument one; a paragraph on the realization of the score suggests that the strings are 9-3-2-1. The generally excellent soloists sing “brief vocal cadenzas, using suggestions of” the conductor; vocal ornamentation is otherwise minimal. Despite the apparently international mix of their names and the Latin text, the vocal style is French, emphasizing the nasal qualities in the voices, especially the tenor. An organ provide continuo for the chorus, a harpsichord for recitatives.

Although a late work, possibly 1790, the Libera me, Domine (much of it a cappella ) is written in an ancient style, closer to plainchant than to Baroque or rococo. Unsurprisingly, the mature Haydn proves a master again; the brief piece is exquisite, far more moving than the 1767 Stabat mater . This performance captures the funereal essence of the Libera me better than the only other one I know, by L’Archibudelli on a Sony disc.

The instrumental works were recorded in another Parisian venue, the Salle Adyar, in 1964. The performance of the symphony is both correct and sensitive, the sound clean, almost sweet; only a lack of repeats keeps it from being competitive with today’s best. The double Concerto, from the early 1760s, is a delight; violinist Manzone (the ensemble’s concertmaster) is imaginative, his instrument rich, and the harpsichord sparkles. The oddity of a harpsichord playing with a modern-string ensemble is a nostalgic reminder of performances in the 19050s and 1960s, but it goes against our current conditioning, thanks to which we—and Haydn—are better off.

Latin texts are included. Notes to the vocal works are adapted from H. C. Robbins Landon, those for the instrumental ones by Jean Hamon. Although suffering from the English translation, the latter are of interest, noting both the plusses and minuses of Haydn’s “servant contract” with Esterházys, and the princes’ “sensitivity and flexibility in applying this contract . . . conscious that [Haydn’s] glory served to further enhance their own brilliance.’ Hamon introduces the concept of “delightful tempos” and mentions that Haydn “discovered the works of Shakespeare ( King Lear , among others) and their turbulent emotive forces” at the time of the “Trauer” Symphony.

In sum: these are decent, honest, old-fashioned performances that are not competitive in today’s world of enlightened period-practice recordings. I recommend it nevertheless, for its rare, revelatory Libera me, Domine .

—James H North