Haydn Symphonies Nos 91 & 92

An enterprising coupling throws up much to enthrall and entertain

Author: 
Edward Greenfield

Haydn Symphonies Nos 91 & 92

  • Symphony No. 91
  • Symphony No. 92, 'Oxford'
  • Berenice che fai

The Freiburg Baroque Orchestra are the fine period-performance band that gave us such an exuberant account recently on Harmonia Mundi of Haydn’s last oratorio, Die Jahreszeiten (A/04). Here again in Haydn conducted by Jacobs, there is a sense of joy, of carefree intensity in the playing, giving the impression of a live event. The distinctive point about this issue is the inclusion of Haydn’s Scena di Berenice along with the two symphonies. If anyone objects that usually these two symphonies come in coupling with their companion piece, No 90, the vocal item proves the most powerful bonus, and in any case, with the repeats observed in the second halves of the outer movements, there would have been no room for a third symphony.

As in the oratorio, Jacobs is aware of Haydn’s sense of humour, pointing rhythms to bring it out in such a movement as the Andante in No 91, also underlining the sharp dynamic contrasts. Outer movements sustain their extra length well thanks to the resilience of the playing. If at times the ensemble is not quite as crisp as it might be, the warmth and urgency are ample compensation. Minuets are taken very fast as scherzos in all but name, justly so, and the finales of both works have a winning lightness, with the Presto of No 92 so fast that most orchestras would have sounded breathless. Not so the Freiburgers.

If anything, the performance of the Scena di Berenice, written for Haydn’s last and biggest benefit gala in London in 1795, is even more remarkable, with Bernarda Fink searingly dramatic, freely varying the pace and tone-colours of the recitatives to bring out the meaning of the words, and rising superbly to the challenge of the two arias slow and fast. The power and focus of the singing are magnetic, even if the relatively close placing of the singer tends to exaggerate her vibrato a little, of little moment when it is so even. Once again, as in so many of her recordings, she firmly establishes herself as one of the most compelling mezzos of her generation. When collections of Haydn symphonies tend to predominate among new issues, it is good to welcome a one-off disc like this.

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