Franz Joseph Haydn Il distratto Giovanni AntoniniHaydn 2032 – No. 4: Il Distratto

Franz Joseph HaydnSymphony no. 60 in C minor, Hob. I:60 “Per la Commedia intitolata Il Distratto”; Symphony no. 70 in D major, Hob. I:70; Symphony no. 12 E major, Hob. I:12

Domenico CimarosaIl Maestro di Cappella

Riccardo Novaro, baritone
Il Giardino Armonico
Giovanni Antonini, conductor
Alpha Classics, 2016

It is always a good precaution to get ready in time for the celebration of a great composer and Franz Joseph Haydn’s anniversary in 2032 is a particularly important one, as that year will mark the three hundredth anniversary of his birth. For this reason, the Joseph Haydn Stiftung Foundation of Basel in collaboration with the Alpha label has decided to make a complete recording of the composer’s 107 symphonies, entrusting the task to conductor Giovanni Antonini and to the ensemble Il Giardino Armonico.

The present recording, entitled “Il Distratto” is the fourth of the series and features Haydn’s symphonies no. 60, 70 and 12 and the celebrated intermezzo Il maestro di cappella composed by Domenico Cimarosa – an addition that explains itself with the need to clarify the link of Haydn’s compositions with works of other contemporary composers. The guiding thread of the fourth volume of Haydn’s collection is a figure, the Kappellmeister, represented by Haydn for the historical reality and by the singer of Il maestro di cappella for the fiction. The pantomime, by the way, is another theme of “Il Distratto”, as the selected works will immediately reveal.

The album opens with Haydn’s Symphony no. 60 in C minor, his only surviving incidental work, composed «per la Commedia intitolata Il Distratto» («for the comedy entitled The Distracted»), presumably in 1774 or in 1775. The nickname of the symphony, “Il Distratto”, refers to the French play it has to accompany, entitled Le Distrait not by chance and written by Jean-François Regnard. The play was staged at the Esterházy court in 1774 under the German title Der Zerstreute on the occasion of the summer theatrical season. For what Haydn’s music concerns, the symphony belongs to the years immediately after the so-called Sturm und Drang period of his production and is still linked to it, although the works of the years 1773-1774 are probably influenced by his turn to vocal music and the resumption of operatic composition, are longer and more daring than the previous ones and are usually written in the minor mode (C minor, in this case).

The theatrical and operatic activity at the Esterházy court was among the major reasons why Haydn composed less instrumental works than before and only nine were completed between 1776 and 1781; among them, there was also the next symphony of this recording, no. 70 in D major. This symphony does not reflect the light, popular orientation that characterized other symphonies of these years and it was performed for the first time to celebrate the inauguration of the new Eszterháza theatre (on December 18, 1779) after a fire burned down the previous building.

The last symphony, but the first in order of time, no. 12 E major, was composed at the beginning of Haydn’s career as vice-Kappellmeister at the Esterházy court, in 1763, during some of his most prolific years (1761–5), when he completed about twenty-five works.

Cimarosa’s Il maestro di cappella, one of the most frequently performed operas at the Esterházy court, was presumably performed for the first time between 1786 and 1792, but the first recorded performance took place in Berlin on July 2, 1793 with the Milanese singer and composer Antonio Bianchi as the pretentious Kappellmeister. The intermezzo was handed down to posterity in only one complete version, published in Leipzig in 1810, for bass-baritone voice and piano and comprises a sinfonia and two arias, as in the original German libretto of 1795.

As this recording features four compositions by two different composers, the first thing to point out is that this amalgam works very well together, both from the thematic and the musical point of view and in particular when you take into consideration the facetious character of the first symphony (no. 60) and the mocking intentions of Il maestro di cappella. Symphony no. 70 is a sort of digression in this regard as its style and inspiration are definitely more serious and it appears as a grave guest at a party, also in comparison with the Symphony no. 12, that shares the same spirit with the other two works. This said, the success of the album can be easily verified.

Antonini conducts Il Giardino Armonico with zest and accuracy, connoting the Symphony no. 60 with a lively and brilliant character that give prominence to its original destination as incidental music and allows to enjoy its humour and lightness, while Symphony no. 70 is rather a thoughtful, meditative “interlude” of exquisite quality before passing to Symphony no. 12, again characterized with exuberance. Il maestro di cappella is finely played as well as sung, although baritone Riccardo Novaro portrays the pretentious character as a sophisticated Kappellmeister rather than a comic, even parodic maestro, but his sympathetic and rich vocal timbre compensate for the lack of this features.

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