Haydn Symphonies Nos 6, 7 & 8
Promises are unfulfilled; but in neither case is it because of poor intentions. Rather the weaknesses appear to result from a lack of wide experience.
The periodinstrument musicians of the conductorless Freiburg Baroque Orchestra have no difficulty in playing the notes (the horns are occasionally less than adroit)‚ their sensitivity to instrumental balance and dynamics is of a high order‚ as is their conception of the music. But they tend to hold the pulse to the bar lines‚ resulting in stiff execution‚ though the principals who have plenty of solos are less unbending when on their own. The slow movement of No 7‚ a long recitative‚ moves freely and the cadenza (from 8'06") for solo violin and cello is a fine illustration of supple ease. So is the finale‚ an Allegro in 2/4‚ that has the necessary horizontal sweep because the Freiburgers pay attention to the importance of not overstressing the lighter second beat. Inexplicably‚ they don’t bother with this aspect in the finale of No 6 – it has the same timesignature – and the music lumbers somewhat. Ultimately‚ and despite very good sound‚ inflexibility in many areas puts these performances behind those of Harnoncourt. He is not as clearly recorded‚ but his imagination also enhances the pictorial qualities of the symphonies in a way that the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra do not quite match.
Inflexibility dogs Drahos too‚ and it would be easy to believe that No 70 begins with a Menuet. The timesignature is 3/4 but Drahos has ignored the tempo marking of Vivace con brio‚ ‘so fast‚’ says Haydn scholar James Webster‚ ‘as to be virtually oneinabar’. Drahos is stolid; and his conducting here offers an example of rhythmic turgidity that‚ to a greater or lesser degree throughout this disc‚ masks the virtues of good playing and clean sound. Only the timpani are a trifle backward but‚ in compensation‚ the horns in B flat alto in No 71 are particularly distinct in the last two movements. But the performance itself is none too successful; the slow movement trudges a bit and the finale has a stilted gait because the phrases are insufficiently pointed.
Come the Andante of No 70 and Drahos relaxes his hold. Not all the nuances inherent in the piece are exploited (the violins are muted) but he allows the notes unimpeded motion – as he does to even better effect in the equivalent movement of No 73 where the moments of tension and relaxation are well judged. Drahos breathes with the music‚ but unfortunately tightens up for a rigidly played hunting finale.
Regretfully‚ then‚ many reservations; but there are options – Rattle in No 70 where an understanding of texture (he brings a wealth of shadings to the slow movement) and a feeling for dramatic timing are second to none; and Adám Fischer whose ability to get away from the constraints of metrical inelasticity is very good in No 73‚ excellent in No 71. Drahos doesn’t aspire to this sort of distinction; well‚ not yet.