Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 88 in G (1787) [20:03]
Symphony No. 89 in F (1787) [21:06]
Symphony No. 90 in C (plus alternative Finale) (1788) [27:17]
Symphony No. 91 in E flat (1788) [23:00]
Symphony No. 92 in G (Oxford) (1788) [24:47]
Sinfonia concertante in B flat (1792) [21:24]*
*Toru Yasunaga (violin); *Georg Faust (cello); *Jonathan Kelly (oboe); *Stefan Schweigert (bassoon)
Berlin Philharmonic/Sir Simon Rattle
rec. in concert, Philharmonie, Berlin, February 2007
EMI CLASSICS 3942372 [75:47 + 68:31]
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 seems generalized.
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 recommendation.
Stephen Francis Vasta 

see also review by John Quinn  (September 2007 Recording of the Month)

Rattle and his players simply haven't yet lived with some of this music quite long enough.