Judge Norman Short critiques this disc featuring music from the Father of the Symphony.
Joseph Haydn: Father of the Symphony.
Joseph Haydn, contemporary of Mozart, Beethoven, and many other classical composers, is credited as the Father of the Symphony. His many works received great fame in his own lifetime, and still continues today. Listen to two of his most complex and large-scale symphonies in Dolby Digital or glorious DTS 5.1 sound on this entry into the collection of Naxos Musical Journey discs. Beautiful scenes of England, appropriate for these "London Symphonies" accompanies the music, with a bit of a travelogue for an extra feature.
Facts of the Case
Franz Joseph Haydn was born on April 1, 1732, in Rohrau, Austria, near the Hungarian border. By the age of eight he was brought into the Cathedral of St. Stephen to sing in the choir. Though he received lessons in academic subjects and singing, violin, and clavier, he received little instruction in composition. In 1749, his singing voice no longer so fine, he was caned and expelled from the choir for a boyhood prank. The next years were a struggle for him as he made a living teaching music and accompanying singers on the violin and harpsichord. In 1758 Haydn got his first regular musical job. Joseph was recommended to Count Ferdinand Maximilian von Morzin, who had a great interest in music. Haydn became conductor of the Morzin orchestra in Lukavec (today part of Czechoslovakia) and he composed his first orchestral compositions. The Morzin orchestra performed Haydn's first symphony and Haydn conducted it from the harpsichord, which was still the custom from the Baroque period. Among the audience, which was overwhelmed, was a man named Prince Anton Esterhazy, who later became very important to the young Haydn. In 1761, Count Morzin disbanded his orchestra because of financial problems. Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy found out Haydn was unemployed and offered him the job of assistant Kapellmeister of his orchestra in Eisenstadt, the Esterhazy palace. For nearly all the remaining years of his life the Esterhazy family would employ him. He enjoyed fame and fortune there, as well as in Vienna, but in England he found true popularity. It was there, in 1794, that he wrote the two symphonies: 103 "Drum Roll" and 104 "London" that are performed on this DVD. He died revered and respected, though infirmed, in 1809.
Haydn's influence on classical music cannot be overstated. He was a great influence on such composers as Mozart, as well as a close friend and mentor, and also a teacher of and an influence on Beethoven. His work covers both the late Baroque and the early Classical periods, with elements of each depending on the composition.
Naxos has been doing an ever-better job at refining their efforts to provide classical music on DVD. Their first efforts suffered from poor video, but that has much improved while keeping up the highest standards in soundtracks and clarity of the music. This disc of two of Haydn's works is no exception.
The first symphony, "London" (104, in D major), is energetic and driving, the type of classical music I like to wake up to. Interspersed with the high-energy movements and finale are periods where the music softens, taking on a more expressive tone. I'm not usually a fan of mixing the two styles within the same work; I like softer classical when I want soothing music, and the rest of the time I like the more energetic style. Still, who am I to complain? I still very much enjoyed the symphony overall. The second, "Drum Roll" (103, in E flat major) is much the same in style, though certainly not a copy. This is to be expected since both were written and performed near the same time.
Barry Wordsworth, who has also conducted for the other Naxos discs I've reviewed, capably conducts both symphonies. Both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtracks offer a wide, spacious soundstage in the front channels with more of a reverb effect out of the rear speakers. Still, the DTS track gets the nod as the better of the two because the sound is a bit more transparent and imaging is slightly enhanced. Both symphonies will sound glorious on a good sound system.
Those wanting to take a trip to London can get a nice look at the sights before they go by watching the disc. All the big landmarks are there; the palace, the Tower of London, Picadilly Circus, and of course Big Ben. Other scenes of everyday life in the London streets are also included. The quality of the video is quite good; the full frame picture is detailed and clear. Some grain in early night shots were the biggest fault I could find. Accompanying the disc are "travel notes" that tell you what scenic landmarks are shown in the video; I would have rather had those as subtitles than as an extra feature, since you are sometimes left to guess which landmark is which.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Other than that small complaint, my only real gripe with the Naxos series are their discs are too short, with less than an hour of music per DVD. A third symphony should have fit just fine in the space requirements of the format, and I'm always wishing for a little more. Still, for a retail price of $14.95 and available online for less, this is a wonderful collection for the cost.
Classical music lovers, especially those who are fond of Haydn's symphonies, will find this a nice addition to their collection. The 5.1 surround is really the bonus, though if you like watching the scenes of London I suppose that could be a draw as well. Most of the Naxos Musical Journey collection would make a nice introduction to those who haven't become acquainted with classical music, and I do highly recommend everyone at least give the classics a try.
Case is dismissed; I refuse to put the old master Papa Haydn on trial. Naxos and DVD International are likewise acquitted; they put out a good product at a good price.
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