The idea here is a good one: these symphonies receive less attention
than those of the great Paris and London sets,
falling as they do between them, and Rattle has shown some feeling
for Haydn in the past. But the results are inconsistent.
The G major Symphony gets things off to a lumpish start. The
broadly tenuto chords in the slow introduction are well-balanced,
and the softer phrases are elegant. But the body of the first
movement is moderately paced, and occasionally nothing much
seems to be going on. Rattle infuses the Largo with feeling;
but the strings' answering phrases are bottom-heavy, while the
upper strings sound reedy and uningratiating left on their own
at 2:24. No reservations about the minuet, which maintains a
full-bodied peasant-dance feel; Rattle's brisk manner in all
these movements, in fact, is a pleasure. In the finale, however,
the bows sit on the strings that bit too long for real crispness.
Symphony 89 begins heavily, perhaps, for a Vivace; the
moving bits are clear, however, and the development brings good
momentum and drama. The big outbursts in the Andante con
moto, less coarse than similar passages could be when Karajan
led the orchestra, effectively set off the prevailing galant
mood. The menuet has an unbuttoned vigor and lightness, with
nicely pointed woodwinds in the Trio. In the cheerful, hearty
finale, Rattle supplies unexpected but tasteful agogics to the
returns of the theme, and the strings aren't afraid to dig into
the dramatic minor section.
Snappy readings of the next three symphonies pick things up.
The crisp, driving Allegro of Symphony 90 dispels the
soggy air established by the introduction, and the second theme
is buoyant and light-textured. At the start of the Andante,
the manner is simple, yet the theme is sensitively inflected,
with the variations exploring a nice variety of moods and textures.
The minuet's forthright, military bearing is reinforced by daubs
of trumpet color; the oboe solos in the Trio are sensitive,
if a bit coy in the staccatos. The bustling Allegro assai
Finale is punctuated by fanfares. Haydn's alternative version
of this finale, which EMI appends as a filler, uses the same
musical materials, but seems to have trouble deciding when,
how, and how many times to end - it's the musical equivalent
of a stutter.
In the first movement of Symphony 91, the rhythm has a nice
rocking quality; the tuttis suggest the right unbuttoned
exuberance; and the development maintains tension and impulse,
with clean, driving string runs, even from the basses. Rattle's
gracious manner in the Andante - the bassoons providing
the intended passing moments of comic relief - doesn't preclude
festive grandeur in the tutti statementat 4:59.
The Menuetto - this one marked Un poco allegretto
- is lively, even rollicking in the triplet runs, with plenty
of wind color registering within the string-dominated ensemble,
and a slightly heavier peasant tread in the Trio. The conductor
projects the rousing Finale in long musical arcs, bringing a
light touch to the violin runs.
The Oxford is so nicknamed because it was played when
Haydn received an honorary doctoral degree from that institution.
The somber dignity of the slow introduction and the inward,
elegant slow movement appropriately mark the gravity of the
occasion. But it was also a time to celebrate, as reflected
in the lively Allegro of the first movement, the sprightly
minuet, and impulsive Finale - in that last, the brasses fairly
erupting with joy.
The Sinfonia concertante is a bit of a let-down, though
there are some lovely things in it. In the first movement, the
shifts of mood are strongly felt, though occasionally underplayed;
violinist Toru Yasunaga launches the recapitulation at 5:01
with unusual delicacy; the ensemble trill that rounds off the
cadenza is beautifully blended. Throughout the performance,
Jonathan Kelly's sensitive oboe reflects an Old World "Viennese"
nostalgia. But quite a number of phrases in the central Andante
are stiffly shaped, without the give-and-take that would produce
a real cantabile, and the energy in the outer movements
The recorded sound is vivid.
I'm fond of big-orchestra Haydn - a few handsful of gut strings
simply can't put over the hearty spirit of these scores - and
such estimable exponents as Sir Colin Davis and Eugen Jochum
didn't get around to recording all these pieces. Still, I suspect
that Rattle and his players simply haven't yet lived with some
of this music quite long enough for it to merit an unequivocal
Stephen Francis Vasta
see also review by John
Quinn (September 2007 Recording of