Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Nézet-Séguin [Haydn’s Surprise, Military & London Symphonies]

Symphony No.94 in G (Surprise)
Trumpet Concerto in E flat
Symphony No.100 in G (Military)
Symphony No.104 in D (London)

David Blackadder (trumpet)

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Yannick Nézet-Séguin

Reviewed by: Graham Rogers

Reviewed: 15 October, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Yannick Nézet-Séguin. ©Pierre DuryThe Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment kicked off its new season with a jubilant celebration of three of Haydn’s late symphonies, the form whose predominance he did so much to establish. His last – and greatest – concerto was thrown in for good measure. As we head towards the end of an anniversary year which has drawn many an over-looked gem to our attention, this was nevertheless a welcome opportunity to return to familiar and well-loved territory.

The French-Canadian conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin was sensational. Bristling with boundless energy, he lost no opportunity for making dramatic contrasts in dynamics and articulation, injecting a rare sense of exhilaration. Quite a showman (dressed in a T-shirt and shiny black suit), Nézet-Séguin’s passion also displayed an intelligent understanding of Haydn, his ideas never lacking integrity. He often encouraged longer note-values than many period-style practitioners, and always found buoyancy.

After a breathtaking ride of an opening movement, outstandingly lithe with crisp articulation and rock-solid playing that ensured it was never in danger of going off the rails, the eponymous ‘surprise’ of Symphony No.94’s famous Andante still managed to make a colossal impact – Nézet-Séguin bringing the passage immediately preceding the explosive shock-chord down to a barely audible, yet impeccably controlled sotto voce. The Minuet was taken at a breakneck and rather graceless pace, but the Trio was calmer and well-phrased. The finale set off at a lively sprint, its super-fast tempo no problem for the nimble OAE violins.

The fleet-footed orchestral playing continued in the Trumpet Concerto, in a lively performance which also brought out some marvelously rich and dark-hued sonorities. In contrast to all the orchestral ebullience, peerless period-trumpeter David Blackadder came across as a little cautious, lacking a soloist’s flair, but he displayed a terrific technical command of his early keyed-trumpet, and fine musicianship. The handful of split notes only added to the frisson of a live performance.

Paradoxically, the extra percussion-bolstered militaristic outbursts in the Allegretto of Symphony No.100 made less impact than in more conventional performances which are less exuberant overall. Nézet-Séguin’s enthusiasm showed no sign of flagging here, or in the magisterial account of the ‘London’ Symphony. The OAE displayed extraordinary stamina, maintaining impeccable precision.

Nézet-Séguin’s non-stop hyper-Haydn did become exhausting, and the programming of these late scores meant that it was almost impossible to fully appreciate all four in a row. It seems churlish to carp, however, about what was, after all, an excess of exceptionally high quality.

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