There once was a time when one could count on finding only the last dozen or so Haydn symphonies on LP; if you wanted more than those, you generally were out of luck, short of Doráti's complete Philharmonia Hungarica series, but those recordings didn't come along until the late 1960s and early 1970s. Before then, it was left to smaller labels to introduce collectors to many of the earlier symphonies. The present recordings date from 1963 – August 19 and 20, to be exact. Croatia might seem an unlikely place to find superb Haydn playing, but Vanguard/The Bach Guild made a number of excellent recordings with Janigro (also a notable cellist) and the Symphony Orchestra of Radio Zagreb during this period, and these old-fashioned, charming, and very middle-European readings still have something to say to a listening public sated with "authentic instrument" performances.
A good place to start might be finale of the "Farewell" Symphony. The ever-dwindling orchestra seldom fails to make an attractive effect, but Janigro creates an experience that is both tender and unusually moving, aided in no small part by the warmth of the Zagreb strings. While not given to interpretive extremes, Janigro nevertheless makes his own imprint on these symphonies with his friendly precision – no Szell-like tension here! – and graceful moderation, and the playing of the Zagreb musicians is smooth as silk, but never bland. I don't know how many orchestra members participated in these recordings, but the orchestral size seems a little reduced – to good effect, I might add. Janigro's objective Haydn makes an excellent complement to Scherchen's far more subjective readings, recorded a few years earlier for Westminster, and recently reissued by Deutsche Grammophon.
The sound quality is fine, much as it was on the original LPs – minus the surface noise and scratches, however. The Bach Guild reissues I've seen so far, however, are let down by generic cover art. Serious consideration needs to be given to jazzing things up. Many of the The Bach Guild LPs are going to CD without the addition of any extra material, which makes for a short CD. Here, three LPs have been easily condensed onto two CDs – a boon for space-starved collectors. Crista Landon's original jacket notes have been retained for this reissue.
Copyright © 2004, Raymond Tuttle