Saturday 12 March 2016

First rate performances of Haydn Opera Overtures from Michael Halász and the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice on a new release from Naxos

Between 1766 and 1780, opera of various kinds came to dominate Joseph Haydn’s (1732-1809) life in a way that he could not have predicted before he joined the Esterházy court. He composed a total of fourteen stage works, an impressive amount given that he was not exclusively a composer of operas and that during those years made far reaching developments of the quartet, symphony, sonata and church music.

Haydn’s operas have never gained the popularity of those of Mozart’s which is a shame given the amount of very fine music contained in them. All the more reason then for welcoming a new release from Naxos of Haydn’s Opera Overtures performed by the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice  under Michael Halász


Lo speziale (The Apothecary) (1768) is a three-act opera buffa concerning a love triangle between the poor apprentice Mengone, the rich and assured Volpino and the local apothecary's ward, Grilletta. The Sinfonia has all the glory of Haydn’s infectious spirit driving the music forward with lithe, spirited playing from the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice under Michael Halász with a beautifully poised central section.
Acide e Galatea (Acis and Galatea) (1762) was first performed in the new glass-house theatre in the Eisenstadt palace grounds in 1763. The opera follows the story of the Cyclops Polifemo wooing the half-goddess Galatea, but to no avail as Galatea is actually in love with the handsome young shepherd-boy Acide, who eventually metamorphoses into an immortal river god. The Sinfonia opens with a really incisive Allegro molto, light of heart and with some first rate orchestral playing providing a fine transparency. The gentler moments are beautifully turned. The Andante grazioso has a fine rhythmic undercurrent in the lower strings set against the gently flowing music, beautifully phrased. The Finale: Presto bounds forward with moments of incisive playing, Halász and the orchestra negotiating every little twist and turn brilliantly.

Le pescatrici (The Fisherwomen) (1770) is an opera in three acts concerning the Prince of Sorrento's search for Prince Casimiro's rightful heir who had been taken as a baby after her father's murder. Two young fisherwomen in the village each believe they might be the missing princess. The Sinfonia brings some fine horn phrases as Haydn has great fun finding many entertaining ideas, finely brought out in this performance.  

Philemon und Baucis (1773) is unusual in that it was written for Prince Nikolaus Esterházy’s marionette theatre, drawing on an episode from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The Overture has a dramatic and rather earnest opening to the Allegro con espressione again with many beautifully turned phrases and surprisingly with some of Haydn’s finest invention as the music drives ahead. The Andante poco allegro is quite wonderfully done with some very fine string playing.
L'infedeltà delusa (Infidelity Outwitted) (1773) is an operatic burletta per musica with a rather convoluted plot concerning Fillipo who has a beautiful daughter he intends to marry to a rich man, Nencio. The daughter, Sandrina, loves Nanni the brother of Vespina.  Vespina, of course, loves Nencio.  The Allegro of the Sinfonia fairly leaps of the page, fleet and lithe with finely controlled dynamics and a fine forward sweep as well as some quite lovely orchestral textures. There are lovely woodwind passages in the beautifully paced Poco adagio with some beautifully controlled and shaped dynamic moments before brass illuminate the vital, energetic Presto, full of brilliance and energy.
Der Götterrath, (The Deliberations of the Gods) (1773) is the prologue to Philemon und Baucis of which only the Overture and one other section has survived. It has a weighty opening before the orchestra reveal their lovely string transparency, soon moving ahead with some fleet and lively playing.  This may be a relatively short piece but there is some vintage Haydn here.

L'incontro improvviso (The Unexpected Encounter) (1775) an opera in three acts with a plot that is reminiscent of Mozart's opera, Die Entführung aus dem Serail. Prince Ali falls in love with Princess Rezia, who is betrothed to another. They elope but are captured by corsairs and separated. He learns that she has been sold to the Sultan of Cairo, and goes there to rescue her. An escape almost succeeds but is betrayed by a greedy Dervish but, moved by the example of pure love, the kindly Sultan pardons everyone. The Sinfonia opens with an Adagio maestoso with slow emphatic chords before leading into the Presto complete with Turkish percussion sounds and playing often of great breadth and forward drive. The lovely Andantino brings fine strings textures before the Presto rattles ahead, with more Turkish flavour from the percussion.
Il mondo della luna (Life On The Moon), Hob.Xxviii:7 (1777) is an opera buffa in 3 acts concerning Ecclitico, a fake astrologer and the young gentleman, Ernesto who are in love with the daughters of the extremely misogynistic but rich, Buonafede who refuses to agree to the matches. Ecclitico claims to have built a telescope that can see into the world of the moon. Buonafede is entranced and when Ecclitico tells him that he has been summoned to the moon to serve the emperor he is easily able to persuade Buonafede to come too as long as the girls can come along later. The Sinfonia brings some lovely orchestral textures with a bassoon adding a distinctive touch to the opening. It has a fine forward drive and many little twists and turns.

L'isola disabitata (The Uninhabited Island), Hob. Ia:13 (1779) was Haydn’s tenth opera again written for the Eszterházy court and premiered on 6 December 1779. The story concerns Constanza a woman who has been on an isolated island for thirteen years. She thinks she’s been deserted and almost becomes mad with bitterness. The truth is that she had been kidnapped by marauding soldiers. Her husband returns to the island to search for her and save her. Eventually they are reunited. The Overture opens with a beautifully drawn Largo before a lively Vivace assai where these Czech players bring the most agile playing. There is a lovely, graceful and nicely poised  Allegretto, with freely shaped phrases before the final short dashing Vivace.  

First performed at the Eszterházy court in 1779, La vera costanza (True Constancy) (1776) explores the troubles of a sentimental heroine abandoned by a mad lover. There is a crisp and incisive opening to the Presto of the Sinfonia with lovely phrasing and some very fine individual orchestral sections. This orchestra bring a fine rhythmic lilt to the Allegretto where one can imagine Haydn having much enjoyment. There are some wonderfully intricate rhythms in the Allegro moderato as it slowly gains momentum to dash ahead, leading to a beautifully turned Andante followed by a brief, rhythmically pointed Allegro moderato to conclude.
La fedelta premiata (Fidelity Rewarded) (1781) was first performed at Eszterháza in 1781 to celebrate the reopening of the court theatre after a fire. The plot involves the goddess Diana is angered and demands that there be an annual sacrifice of a faithful couple, until an individual voluntarily sacrifices him or herself. One of Haydn’s most successful comic operas the Sinfonia contains possibly the best known music on this disc. It moves along at a pace, full of rhythmic spring with a fine horn contribution.

Orlando Paladino (Orlando the Paladin) (1782) was first performed at Eszterháza on 6 December 1782. The story concerns lovers Angelica and Medoro who are pursued by the mad knight Orlando who is also in love with Angelica until the sorceress Alcina intervenes, restoring Orlando's sanity and allowing the young lovers to live happily ever after. The Sinfonia opens with an incisive theme before finding a gentle flow – often seems to balance between the rhythmic opening idea and the more flowing theme – but full of Haydnesque ideas

Armida (1784), first performed in 1784, is a love story between a heathen sorceress and Rinaldo, a Christian Knight and is his last opera composed and produced for Prince Paul Esterházy’s court. The Overture has a vibrant Vivace with a lovely, fleet string theme that hurtles forward with many lovely individual instrumental touches before a slow moving, gently flowing Andante where the orchestral strings and woodwind fine some lovely sonorities. The concluding Vivace brings some scintillating playing with quite lovely woodwind sonorities.  
L'anima del filosofo, ossia Orfeo ed Euridice (The Soul of the Philosopher, or Orpheus and Eurydice) (1791) was Haydn’s last opera intended for the London stage but never performed in his lifetime. The plot is based on the well-known story of Orpheus and Eurydice. The Overture has an opening of some gravity and weight before an oboe leads off in a lively theme. There are moments of great entertainment finely brought out by Michael Halász and the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice.

These opera overtures and sinfonias are in no way inferior to those of Mozart. They contain a surprisingly rich feast of Haydn. The performances by Michael Halász and the Czech Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra Pardubice are first rate. 

They are nicely recorded at The House of Music, Pardubice, Czech Republic and there are useful booklet notes.

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