HAYDN Symphonies Nos 78 - 81
This is a quietly unusual coupling of Haydn symphonies. Unusual in that No 78 seems more likely to appear with Nos 76 and 77, its partners in the set Haydn prepared for an abortive London visit in the early 1780s, and because Nos 79 and 81 here make their first appearances on period instruments.
Therein lies the thinking, of course, for the release has been devised to plug the gap left in an accidental near-complete period cycle of the Haydn symphonies lying in Universal’s vaults: Nos 1-77 in the unfinished cycle for L’Oiseau-Lyre by Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music; and Nos 82-104 from Frans Brüggen and the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century for Philips. It makes a fascinating intervention, for Ottavio Dantone’s way with Haydn is like neither Hogwood’s (courteous and amiable but also relishing the Classical court-orchestra sound) or Brüggen’s (wise and spaciously laid out as befits music written for the larger ensembles of Paris and London).
Any 16 movements of Haydn are bound to offer a wealth of interpretative opportunities, and Dantone’s tautly controlled and vitally gestural performances do not miss many. Especially impressive is the way he establishes a convincing tone for the mature Sturm und Drang manners of Nos 78 and 80, in which the histrionics of earlier symphonies have given way to something more assimilated and complex. Even so, the first movement of No 78 still has a lurking bleakness in which the lean and clipped performance style somehow adds weight to the more deliberate dramatic silences, while in other movements coldly rasping horn-blasts maintain a nagging irrascibility. Dantone is also a master of pacing, driving finales with assurance, managing gear-changes with ease and setting a tempo for the Menuetto of No 78 that has the rolling momentum of a jolly coach-outing. My only regret is that he did not find greater warmth in the slow movements – though the trajectory of No 80 (to my ears heavy with hints of Beethoven’s ‘Scene by the Brook’) is described with enormous skill.
Accademia Bizantina play excellently, responding with quick ensemble and sinewy strength to Dantone’s interpretational demands. Quite how the enlivening No 81 has escaped so many people’s attention over the years is, having heard Dantone’s vividly detailed account of it, a considerable mystery. A full scheme of repeats prolongs the Haydn feast nicely. I look forward to the box-set.