Symphony No.88 in G
Symphony No.89 in F
Symphony No.90 in C
Symphony No.91 in E flat
Symphony No.92 in G (Oxford)
Sinfonia concertante in B flat for violin, cello, oboe, bassoon and orchestra
Toru Yasunaga (violin), Georg Faust (cello), Jonathan Kelly (oboe) & Stefan Schweigert (bassoon)
Sir Simon Rattle
Recorded February 2007 in the Philharmonie, Berlin
Symphonies 88-92 are performed in the editions by Dr Andreas Friesenhagen of the Joseph Haydn-Institut, Cologne
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: August 2007
CD No: EMI 3 94237 2 (2 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 25 minutes
Sir Simon Rattle has long been a champion of Joseph Haydn – and for that alone he warrants a citation – yet, as in his conducting of Beethoven symphonies, the amalgam of interpretative styles doesn’t always convince, although his relish for this wonderful music is never doubted. Sometimes, though, a gesture will seem a little ‘thrown away’ – there are examples in the Adagio introduction to Symphony No.88, phrases that are rather flittered away – yet the main Allegro has a shape and a moderation that is endearing. With a tenderly moulded slow movement, vigorous Minuet and rustic trio, and puckish finale (humorous rather than rushed but not without the occasional contrivance), this is a fine performance, hard-stick timpani to the fore, rich in lucid and ‘coloured’ detail, and much to savour.
These five wonderful symphonies are every bit as great as those in the ‘Paris’ set (numbers 82 to 87) and ‘London’ collection (93-104) and are testimony to Haydn’s unfettered genius. Number 89 has a grace and vitality very well captured here, the hearty finale being particularly motivated (not absolutely sure about the glissandos, though!). The opening gravitas of Symphony No.90, which Luciano Berio once conducted – interesting to note how many contemporary composers admire the ever-inventive Haydn – is well conveyed, the Allegro full of high spirits, the Andante allowed a sovereign course to a finale that is high on red corpuscles and all repeats. Oh, how many audiences have been surprised by the false ending (twice if the second repeat is taken!) – and it happens here in these ‘in concert’ performances. Hear this track just the once! I’m not sure the Berlin audience being caught out twice, as it is, is really something for posterity … fortunately, a second version of the finale follows, Haydn’s entrapment intact and all the funnier for not having the Berlin crowd falling for it. Actually, Rattle wouldn’t agree with my ‘sniffy’ dismissal of the audience’s reaction – as his contribution to the booklet makes clear (but his rubbishing of coughing and mobile phones as a concert accessory will find great sympathy from those of us troubled by audience-participation).
Onto the second CD for the elegant curves and racy energy of Symphony No.91, Rattle tossing off the Minuet with alacrity and reserving his measure for the easeful finale. The ‘Oxford’ is better known – it has a nickname, and the other better-known symphony here, No.88, used to be known as ‘Letter V’ (a connection with the Royal Philharmonic Society) – and is bright as a button with an expressively moulded introduction and a tender slow movement. The Minuet goes with a will and enjoys ripe horns, but the finale is driven beyond itself even if the playing and rhythmic profile is impeccable. The delightful Sinfonia concertante is played with poise and gentle exhibitionism.
Rattle’s is not the last word on this music, but it’s marvellous that he is giving it exposure. Sometimes one craves the affection of Bernstein, Jochum and Colin Davis – affection and relish are different things – or the adventurousness of Scherchen. Rattle’s way though, backed to the hilt by Berliner Philharmoniker and expert recording, has many endearing features but it can be a bit wearing and even parenthesised. However, these performances are full of good things and worthy of the man that Rattle correctly terms as “our greatest neglected composer.”