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Those Haydn symphonies that fall between his Sturm und Drang and Paris sets (i.e. approx. 1773–85) are rarely recorded, perhaps because old-guard critics tended to dismiss them for being comic, theatrical and ‘merely’ entertainment! So full marks to Nicholas McGegan for this live disc of symphonies from what is arguably Haydn’s most delightfully bizarre period. (Though I’ll also have to deduct marks because McGegan only observes some repeats and employs a much larger orchestra than the one Haydn was accustomed to.)

If no. 57 is the least quirky of these three symphonies, despite a pell-mell finale based on the 17th century ‘Canonza and Capriccio on the Cackling of Hens and Roosters’, No. 67 is Haydn at his most brilliantly eccentric. Alas, I only have space to mention the Menuetto’s extraordinary Trio, performed by two solo violins, each playing a single string tuned as far apart as possible! Stranger still is No. 68’s curiously ticking Adagio cantabile, which even Haydn devotee James Webster admits is enigmatic: ‘Are the comic elements “stagey”, or high wit, or a kind of Brechtian Verfremdung (alienation)?’ Unfortunately, McGegan and the PBO sound equally puzzled (rival versions by Harnoncourt and Hogwood are more persuasive), and they even get a little brusque and testy with the madcap finale, blemishing this otherwise enjoyable disc.

Graham Lock Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2015 - ©Rhinegold Publishing