- Written by Richard Freed Richard Freed
- Category: Richard Freed's "Keepers" Richard Freed's "Keepers"
- Created: 01 May 2015 01 May 2015
As indicated in the first part of this two-part piece, posted on April 1, the claim that “Virtually none of Goberman’s recordings have appeared on Compact Disc until now” is quite an overstatement. All 41 of the symphonies and the two overtures that were issued on the original LRM LPs have been available for some time from Pierre Paquin’s Haydn House in excellent reproductions of the original LP sound. The stunning “Maria Theresia” in Mr. Paquin’s edition is characteristic in that it may strike some listeners as having an agreeably warmer character than the one from Sony, which may seem just a bit overly bright by comparison. Some of the individual symphonies have appeared on CD from other sources (among them a commercial label or two), and some have even circulated with the missing repeats in place, though of questionable origin. But it does not appear that the four additional symphonies or the Overture to Acide e Galatea had ever appeared in any format until the arrival of the new set from Sony.
However Goberman may have got in touch with Landon, their Haydn project was originally set up as a co-production of Deutsche Grammophon and Goberman’s own LRM, and Karl Wolleitner, the famous sound engineer who made nearly all of Scherchen’s Viennese Haydn recordings, was engaged for the project. The original LRM LPs, with their fine sound and those attached scores, became collectors’ items over the years. Unfortunately, when Columbia Records obtained rights to them and brought them out on Odyssey LPs in the early 1970s, the middle channel of the master tapes was either “held back” or simply missing. Now Sony, as successor to Columbia, has acknowledged that failure, and for the most part successfully corrected it.
Landon himself served as producer of these recordings. His hands-on contributions to the sessions may not have been the traditional ones for that designation, and it is of some interest that Wolleitner is identified on one of the Haydn House tray cards not merely as engineer, but as “recording supervisor,” while Mario Mizzaro, remembered for his numerous Vanguard recordings (including Haydn’s second set of “London” symphonies, conducted by Mogens Wöldike), is named as “recording engineer.” Landon, then, may not have been occupied with such chores as set-ups and placements, but he and Goberman together made the big musical decisions in those sessions in the Mozartsaal of the Konzerthaus, as they did, for instance, during the session for Symphony No.24, in collaborating on-the-spot to produce a cadenza for the slow movement just before the actual take.
As for those pesky repeats, unlike those which may or may not have been recorded as such by the Schneider Quartet (those that appear in the M&A set were apparently created ex post facto from Schneider material), we know that Goberman included all repeats in all the symphonies he recorded, because Landon so stated on more than one occasion. Antony Hodgson has kindly shared with me a letter written to him in May 1976 in which Landon wrote:
“Actually there must be the remains of masters, etc., at the Library of Recorded Masterpieces. . . . As you suggested, most of the repeats were removed; we always did all of them. As a matter of fact, the original masters were really very good; if you got them and pressed from them, at least you could save the series. . . . [T]his whole series was originally a co-production with DG, and we delivered original tapes of the whole series to DGG Hamburg. They must have them all still . . . ”
Whether anyone ever did check with DG for those masters, and whether anyone at Sony even knew of them, seem to be unknown at present, and there is no reference to DG or to the question of repeats in Anthony Fountain’s note. I have a fine-sounding CD assembled by unknown hands, however, on which the Symphonies Nos. 41, 24 and 56 are all conspicuously richer in repeats than they are in the Sony set or any previous release of these recordings. In No.56, in C major, the sizable addition of repeats in the two outer movements bring the work’s total timing to 33 and a half minutes, some five and a half beyond what is in the new set, giving us a good idea of what, according to Landon, Goberman actually recorded.
To be sure, the matter of repeats is of less importance to a great many listeners than to others, but Haydn did write in lots of them, and expected them to be played. Of course a conductor has to use some judgment in this matter: there are instances in which playing absolutely all the repeats indicated by the composer might have the untoward effect of throwing the individual movements out of proportion with one another, but the unarguable fact here seems to be that Goberman did record a lot more than have ever been issued by either his own LRM label or Sony, or any other source. The new box from Sony, however, seems to contain exactly those repeats that were available on the LRM LPs, the Odyssey LPs and the Haydn House CDs, and I suspect this will be adequate for most listeners.
But “most listeners” are not Haydn scholars, and among those scholars there is a quite different feeling about dispensing with repeats. Moreover, since Goberman and Landon agreed that they would record all repeats, and Landon confirmed that all were actually recorded, then issuing these recordings with so many of the recorded repeats still missing has to be regarded as a misrepresentation of Goberman’s performances, even though what is on these discs involves a great deal of commitment and some sensationally good playing from the horns and other prominent instruments.
The layout of the 14 discs, however, is harder to overlook and one doesn’t have to be a Haydn scholar to find it irksome. What struck me at once in this respect is that Symphonies Nos. 6, 7, and 8, which constitute Haydn’s “Morning, Noon and Evening” triptych, ought to have been contained in full on a single disc: they certainly could have been, and I simply cannot imagine why they are not.
The 45 symphonies are laid out in the set in numerical order, which does make sense, as this makes them all easy to find, but the handling of this triptych is an utterly gratuitous frustration, particularly for the consumer who may wish to order the triptych intact as a download. Disc 1 contains Symphonies Nos. 1-4 and the Overture to L’infedeltà delusa,for a total timing of 64:18. Disc 2 comprises Symphonies Nos. 5, 6 and 7 and runs only 60:28, but that does not leave enough space for No.8, the final part of the triptych, which runs 24 minutes.
But why on earth did that overture have to be on Disc 1? There is plenty of space for it later in the set, which has several discs with timings under 60 minutes, and two under 50 minutes. The entire set, in fact, could have been comfortably contained on 12 CDs instead of 14, with Nos. 6, 7, and 8 kept together on one of them. It was the 14-disc layout, in fact, that encouraged more than a few otherwise grateful Haydn fans to expect the additional repeats that aren’t there. Certainly Symphonies Nos. 1-5 could have been on Disc 1, the 6-7-8 triptych could have been on Disc 2, and the overture that gets in the way here would have had any number of alternative locations.
There is also the matter of the cover art. A minor matter, perhaps, but Sony’s is drab to the point of offensiveness, in the same general style as the jackets for those unfortunate Odyssey LPs. Music & Arts showed how this aspect ought to be handled, in reviving Arno Schuele’s unforgettably elegant cover design from the original Haydn Society LPs of the quartets. Haydn House, in fact, as well as other “independent” restorers, preserved the original LRM cover design for its earlier CD reissues of this material (minus the five added titles, of course), showing Joseph Haydn’s signature and his inscriptions from the head and ending of each score; Sony would have been well advised to do the same.
For this sort of presentation, it might also have been appropriate to include a picture of Max Goberman. The annotative insert runs 32 pages -- for Anthony Fountain’s essay, in three languages, and of course the detailed listing of the contents -- but very few of today’s listeners have any knowledge of this conductor, and surely space might have been made for a picture of him, on one of the blank inside covers of the booklet, on the box itself, and/or on the individual sleeves.
But, while one might expect a company with Sony’s resources to recognize the foolishness of the disc layouts and the inelegance of the cover art, and to be able to chase down Deutsche Grammophon and/or other possible repositories of the missing repeats, and to give us at least one picture of Goberman, this feeling of frustration may itself be regarded as gratuitous in light of something else that only a company as big as Sony would be able to do, and in fact has done in this instance.
First of all, Sony has brought into general availability, in very decent sound, an indisputable gem of the Haydn discography. As already noted, the company has even acknowledged the failure of its predecessor Columbia Records to transfer the master tapes properly, and has grandly corrected that amazing oversight.
Second, there are those four symphonies and the additional overture that had not been issued before in any form. Their appearance now conforms to the numbers given by Landon -- 45 symphonies and three overtures -- constituting a truly complete collection of all the Haydn material Goberman managed to record in Vienna. I’m sure there are Haydn fanciers who might be happy enough without the five newly added works, but there are also spots in the previously issued recordings that have been cleaned up in one way or another.
In all, there may be about a half-dozen symphonies with noticeable sonic shortcomings. I’m assuming these may be the ones that came from sources other than the master tapes, as some (Nos. 6 and 108) seem to reflect the center-channel problem of the Odyssey LPs, while others (Nos. 60 and 98) are lacking in bass -- but even in these particular recordings, some critics and scholars of my acquaintance have been so carried away by the brilliance of the performances that they report having failed to notice the sonic deficiencies, The bottom line, I feel, is that Sony has done a mostly very good job, and deserves our thanks for making these treasurable recordings available, and for showing thoughtfulness in one phase of the project that may also mean something to more than a few serious listeners
Sony’s size and resources made it possible to offer all this at a price that would be beyond the capability of a smaller “independent” operation, a price that in no way corresponds to the actual worth of the material. The list price in pounds sterling translates to little more than $50 USD; the British online marketer Presto Classical is selling the set for $38.25, and is really moving it.
The Music & Arts 15-disc set of the string quartets is an excellent value at a list price of $119.95, and that small company would probably not have been able to offer it for less. In order to issue that set at all, in fact, the late Fred Maroth relied on donations from several supporters of the quartet project, but the exceptional care M&A put into the effort so abundantly reaffirmed its exalted status that the Schneider set has very comfortably met all its costs and then some, and various distributors and retailers now await a second production run to satisfy the demand for it. But nobody is going to beg Sony to affix a higher price to the Goberman set, and that incredibly low price makes ordering from abroad pretty painless.
As of this posting, Sony has made no announcement regarding an eventual release in North America, and Sony New York has not responded to any of my own inquiries going back to last November, when the set was first announced as scheduled for February release in the UK.
It must be added, though, that Haydn aficionados who had invested in the earlier CD transfers of the Goberman material from Haydn House needn’t rush to replace them. They were made with great care and skill from previously unplayed copies of the original LPs, and continue to hold their own, as already noted. But of course today’s shoppers will understandably be drawn to the new set from Sony, for those five additional titles, for the overall successful transfers, and that incredibly low price. The international Haydn community must be grateful for this level of attention from a company able to make it all happen, and to offer it so economically. For many consumers, and perhaps most, the reservations expressed here may be simply overwhelmed by the larger picture.
. . . Richard Freed
[This completes Richard Freed’s two-part essay on the Max Goberman Haydn symphony recordings. "Part One" can be found here]