Classical: The Compact Collection

Rob Cowan on the Week's New CD Releases
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The Independent Culture
YOU COULD spend the best part of a lifetime exploring Haydn's symphonies, and still hunger for more. There are 107 in all, but those known as the Sturm und Drang symphonies harbour some of the biggest surprises. Haydn wrote them in the late 1760s and early 1770s, experimenting with minor keys (something that was rare in symphonies of the time), and toying with unconventional tempos, bold tonal colours, weird modulations and unexpected rhythmic computations.

Past recordings of the Sturm und Drangs have tended to centre around half-a-dozen or so relatively familiar works, but Frans Bruggen's new set with Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment makes an early start with No 26, known as Lamentatione (with clear echoes of Gregorian chant), then goes on to feature 18 more symphonies on five CDs. The performances are neatly tailored, rhythmically supple and energetic. Period instruments are used, which makes for welcome textural transparency, and Bruggen revels in every outlandish musical gesture. Just try the exuberant opening of No 48, Maria Theresia, the "Fire" Symphony's tempered presto, the Beethovenian pathos of No 44's allegro con brio, or the startling cross-accents in No 65's minuet. Musical conventions are repeatedly challenged, always to entertaining effect. The roll-call of inventive ideas goes on, and Philips's vivid recordings (made at Blackheath Concert Halls between 1994 and 1997) add to the excitement. I doubt that the year's release sheets will yield a fresher crop of symphonic masterpieces.

Turning to chamber music, none that I know of speaks more personally, or more warmly, than the piano trios of Robert Schumann. Hyperion's CD of the first two Trios by the gifted Florestan Trio offers a thoughtful response, pensive though clear-thinking in the D minor and lyrical in the rarely-heard F major. Schumann's fondness for self-quotation informs the Trio No 2, but it is the First that claims the profoundest ingredients, and the richest yield of melody.

The contrast in mood between Schumann's First and Second Piano Trios finds a rough parallel with Dvorak's Seventh and Eighth Symphonies, now usefully - and cheaply - coupled on a fine Deutsche Grammophon "Galleria" CD featuring vintage recordings by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra under Rafael Kubelik. The Seventh is as unsettled as the Eighth is sunny, and Kubelik connects with the founding inspirations of both. The sound might be relatively dated, but the interpretations are truly timeless.

Haydn/Bruggen: Philips 462 117-2 (five CDs for the price of four)

Schumann/ Florestan: Hyperion CDA67063

Dvorak/ Kubelik: Deutsche Grammophon 457 902-2 (budget)