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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 80 in D minor, Hob. I:80 [21:20]
Piano Concerto in D Major, Hob. XVIII:11 [18:23]
Symphony No. 81 in G Major, Hob. I:81 [22:04]
Lucas Blondeel (fortepiano)
Le Concert d’Anvers/Bart Van Reyn
rec. 2016, Brühl, St. Margaretakirche, Germany.
FUGA LIBERA FUG755 [62:06]

I have been ill recently, and whenever I am ill I always find myself turning to Haydn to give me solace; the composer of whom I have more recordings of than any other, which in this case has been quite fortuitous, as not only have I managed to pick up a couple of the Dorati opera recordings, but I have also found a reasonably priced copy of the 160 disc Brilliant Joseph Haydn Edition box set (95594), so I have had a fair few Haydn discs to go at. However, this new recording, under the auspices of Bart Van Reyn, has been something of an eye opener, one which makes me long for more from these forces.

I remember listening to Ottavio Dantone’s 2016 recording (Decca 478 8837) of the symphonies Nos. 78-81 and being a little underwhelmed. It was released so that Decca had a complete cycle when combined with Christopher Hogwood and Frans Brüggen’s recordings of the symphonies. Sadly Dantone was somewhere short of the brilliance of either of the other two conductors so I decided to keep looking. Here we have in Bart Van Reyn a conductor who is more of a match; one who fits in well with both the Hogwood and Brüggen recordings.

The two symphonies presented here are, in my opinion, unjustly neglected, with Robbins Landon describing the Symphony No. 80 as “in many ways a striking work”. This is more in evidence here in Van Reyn’s recording than by Dantone, whose pacing of this, and of Symphony No. 81 is pedestrian in comparison, with Van Reyn being around five minutes quicker in both works. This gives the performances of both of these symphonies a lot more character than in the Dantone recording, with Van Reyn able to give more definition to individual movements. The D minor Symphony, one of only ten minor key symphonies by Haydn, begins with a spirited Allegro spiritoso, but even in this bright movement there is an edge that could imply a return to the style of the composer’s more dramatic ‘Sturm und Drang’ period. What Van Reyn does particularly well here is to contrast the more dramatic music of the opening with the simpler, almost landler like, central theme, something that comes off much better here than in the Dantone. This is followed by a songlike second movement, whilst in the final movement Haydn adds a little humour to the proceedings, something that Van Reyn exploits perfectly before ending in the major key. As with No. 80, the Symphony No. 81 begins boldly with an almost Mozartian second theme, with Robbins Landon describing it as “altogether a very sophisticated work”. Although Van Reyn’s decision to cut the second-half repeats does let the side down a bit leading me to plump for Dantone, or even better still, Giovanni Antonini and his Kammerorchester Basel on Alpha (ALPHA676 review), who is equally persuasive as Van Reyn, even if a bit slower. These two symphonies were composed just prior to the famous ‘Paris Symphonies’ and stylistically share some common features, so it is all the more baffling that these two symphonies have become somewhat neglected.

In contrast the D Major Piano Concerto is perhaps Haydn’s best known and most popular work in the genre, its final gypsy style Rondo all’Ungarese being instantly memorable, although, as with all of his ‘keyboard’ concertos, Haydn did not stipulate the instrument it was intended for, which has led to recordings on the Harpsichord, fortepiano and modern piano, with arrangements for accordion or harp and chamber orchestra. I am happy to say that this present recording offers a performance on a copy of a 1795 Anton Walter fortepiano by Chris Maene. Lucas Blondeel plays with great style and panache making this a very enjoyable and welcome performance. The piano seems right for this music, with just the perfect amount of heft, although it will not suite everyone, but it is well balanced with the ensemble, so that both it and the orchestra come over well, making this the finest performance I have on disc.

These are very fine performances, only slightly let down by the lack of second-half repeats, especially in the Symphony No. 81, but if you like your Haydn in a spirited performance, well this is the one for you, especially when taking into account the performance of the D Major Piano Concerto, which for me is worth the outlay alone. The repeats issue notwithstanding, this is a recording which I will continue to enjoy for a long time.

Stuart Sillitoe

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