CDs / DVDs, 05. August 2011
In the early '90s -- taking a break from the business of recording the music of namesake Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach -- the Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach Chamber Orchestra and director Hartmut Haenchen undertook six CDs' worth of Haydn symphonies. Theirs was a rather unusual cycle in that it incorporated "named" symphonies only, resulting in their interpretations of 19 symphonies out of the 104 Haydn wrote, encompassing some hits but also some rather obscure symphonies as well. This single-disc "Reference Gold" issue combines Symphonies Nos. 60 in C ("Il Distratto"), No. 94 in G (the famous "Surprise"), and 103 in E flat (the "Drum Roll"). This is a good combination, and one observed in an earlier single-disc Berlin Classics issue, although the sound of the Reference Gold edition is notably superior, more responsive in the low end and not as unfocused in the top as before. Haenchen keeps a tight rein on the proceedings -- perhaps recognizing that Haydn's jokes work best when you play them with a straight face -- and these are crisp and disciplined performances. Although works like the "Surprise" and "Drum Roll" were played so often and so long by standard modern orchestras one accustomed to such tradition might find the reduced size of the Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach Chamber Orchestra a little lacking in heft, the musicians make up for that through increased mobility and sharpness of the ensemble. The playing is so good that it might well dislodge one's own sentimental favorite in either the "Surprise" or "Drum Roll," and as most listeners haven't encountered "Il Distratto," this wacky, six-movement effort will come as a nice surprise.
Dave Lewis