HAYDN Symphonies Nos 19, 18 & 81 KRAUS Symphony
Fresh from winning the Orchestral category at last September’s Gramophone Awards with his previous volume of Haydn symphonies, Giovanni Antonini returns with a new selection and a new band. The Basel Chamber Orchestra present a sound that is a touch sweeter than Il Giardino Armonico’s, although that familiar period-instrument ‘spit’ is still never absent when the Sturm und Drang is turned up to 11.
That sweetness suits these later works, in which Haydn’s pithy motivic writing is allied to a melodic breadth – whetting the appetite if these Bâloise players are selected to take on the broader canvases of the ‘Paris’ and ‘London’ Symphonies. The suave No 81 comes off particularly well, while No 80, one of Haydn’s most eccentric creations, is played straight and comes of all the more witty for it. Symphony No 19 is also handsomely done although it seems an odd coupling for the two much later works and might have been omitted from this context to allow for more generous provision of finale second-half repeats elsewhere. (Not that one can really complain in a disc lasting over 78 minutes.) The fourth work is the wonderful C minor Symphony of Joseph Martin Kraus, always worth hearing as perhaps the finest of the Sturm und Drang symphonies not from the pen of either Haydn or Mozart (Kraus’s exact contemporary, to whom the work was, astonishingly, once attributed).
Symphony No 81 received its first period-instrument recording only last year; compared with Ottavio Dantone and Accademia Bizantina, both here and in No 80, Antonini holds his own in perhaps more considered if less wilfully characterised readings. This is another winning entry into Antonini’s Haydn discography, prompting the greedy Haydnista to ask: in which direction will this compelling and tantalising slow-burn series turn next?