Arco Baleno

Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 101 ("The Clock"), 99, 104 ("London")

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Some arrangements of symphonic works for chamber ensembles are clearly products of an anything-goes aesthetic, but these are bona fide historical artifacts: Peter Johann Salomon, the impresario for whom Haydn wrote his 12 "London" symphonies, arranged those symphonies for piano trio and piano quintet in the 1790s. The purpose was not only to bring them within reach of talented amateur players who had heard and enjoyed them, but also, interestingly, to provide a sort of preview of coming attractions in advance of Haydn's concerts themselves. The delightful arrangements of the Symphonies No. 99, No. 101, and No. 104 heard here are for violin, viola, cello, flute, and piano. Salomon, a skilled violinist before he moved from Germany to England and became a concert promoter, did his job inventively. The peripatetic flute stands in for the symphonies' wind parts and takes second-violin responses as needed. And the most attractive feature of Salomon's arrangements is the role of the piano, realized here by keyboardist Guy Penson on a copy of a 1794 instrument. The piano not only provides a continuo-like harmonic framework, but also inserts itself unexpectedly into the dialogue at times. Given that the continuo was a vestigial and disappearing device in Haydn's time, yet one that the composer exploited with humorous intent in the obbligato keyboard cadenza at the end of the Symphony No. 98, one might say that Salomon did an exceptionally nice job of tapping into Haydn's unique wit. The young Belgian group Arco Baleno brings the music off superlatively. The muted, percussive sound of the early piano blends seamlessly into the string group, and the outer fast movements crackle with energy. The engineering of this live recording is top-notch, with a strong sense of presence and excitement unmarred by ambient noise. The overall result? A recording that will be played enthusiastically and repeatedly by everyone from Haydn specialists to casual lovers of Classical-era symphonies who happen to want something of smaller dimensions for a particular occasion.

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