- Symphony No. 74 in E flat major, H. 1/74
- Symphony No. 75 in D major, H. 1/75
- Symphony No. 76 in E flat major, H. 1/76
These are well-played renditions of this trio of Haydn symphonies. The Cologne Chamber Orchestra performs with spirit and professionalism throughout, but does sound a bit bland in personality: they play all the right notes, have a decent dynamic range, and can impart color and brio to the score, but you sense a bit of carefulness here, some stiffness there, and in the end you're unmoved. The strings need more elasticity, more sheen to their tone. Not that these performances are bereft of grace and wit: try the finale of No. 76 (track 12) for a delicious romp, where the manic tempo poses no problems for the players. Nor can one dismiss the group as wanting for warmth and sensitivity: hear the second movement of No. 75, where Haydn's quirky lyricism is quite deftly conveyed. But in fact the success here may be due in large part to conductor Müller-Brühl's shaping of the stop-and-start mesmerism of this slow music to fit his orchestra's strengths (or to sidestep its shortcomings). In any event, all three readings are effective and, at Naxos's budget price, eminently recommendable. The late Antal Dorati became an icon in this repertory, recording all the symphonies for London, and while his Philharmonia Hungarica may be marginally superior to this Cologne group, his interpretations may not surpass Müller-Brühl's. A comparison of his reading of the "Symphony No. 74" with the one under review failed to turn up a perceptible superiority of insight. In sum, if you're looking for better than decent recordings of these less popular, but still worthwhile Haydn symphonies, this disc will deliver the goods. The performance of No. 76 may be the gem here. Naxos provides vivid sound and informative notes.