HAYDN Symphonies: No. 121; No, 22, “Der Philosoph2”; No. 26, “Lamenatione3”; No. 934; No. 985; No. 103, “Drumroll6”; No. 104, “London7” Read more class="BULLET12b">• 1Christoph von Dohnányi, 2Zubin Mehta, 3,5Franz Welser-Möst, 4,6Nikolaus Harnoncourt, 7Pierre Boulez, cond; Vienna PO • VIENNA PHILHARMONIC WPH-L-2009/1-3 (3 CDs: 166:31) Live
To celebrate the 2009 Haydn year, the Vienna Philharmonic has picked seven performances given over a 39-year span. The symphonies appear in numerical order, beginning with Dohnányi’s November 10, 1991, rendering of the lovely Symphony No. 12 in E—which was about the 27th symphony Haydn wrote. Dennis Russell Davies’ performance in the recent Sony set of the complete Haydn symphonies is livelier and more colorful, but the VPO’s larger string section shines in the golden acoustic of Vienna’s Musikverein. Russell Davies’ very slow Adagio is sublime, Dohnányi’s merely pretty. It is one of Haydn’s most treasurable movements, belying the early number assigned to the symphony by Hoboken. Dohnányi’s performance is thoroughly enjoyable, yet the comparison illustrates how marvelous many of the Russell Davies performances are. Mehta’s “Der Philosoph” goes back to January 16, 1972, also in the Musikverein. The English hornist sounds uncomfortable in his solo role, and the French horns have a bobble or two in the opening Adagio. The two Prestos display the verve of the 35-year-old conductor, however, and the horns redeem themselves in the Minuet’s Trio. Welser-Möst’s “Lamentatione” (March 22, 1996) is quite similar to Russell Davies’ performance, and the VPO has a big advantage in those gorgeous acoustics.
Harnoncourt’s performances come from a May 10, 2009, concert in Vienna’s Konzerthaus, another fine hall but one that lacks the magic of the Musikverein. Symphony No. 93 is typical of this commanding if sometimes perverse conductor. Trumpets are harsh and blatant, dominating the tutti whenever they appear; bassoons are weak; strings, played with as little vibrato as possible, have no sheen. In short, he gets the Vienna Philharmonic to sound like a giant version of his Consentus Musicus—as he did with the Concertgebouw in his decades-old Teldec recording. But here he takes even greater liberties, often altering tempi from bar to bar and inserting some huge Luftpausen worthy of Mengelberg or Furtwängler in the Minuet and Trio. The results are exciting and unpredictable—we never know what is around the next corner. I found the performance fascinating at first, but it begins to annoy on multiple hearings. At bar 25 of the finale, he elides the first two notes of the main theme, both marked staccato; who knows why? Could it be a subtle way to draw our attention to them? They have already appeared nine times before bar 25 (including a repeat), and they lie at the core of the movement and of its development. Harnoncourt has seldom insisted on unanimity of attack, so his D-Major Symphony can sound a bit rough next to the elegant ones by Cantelli, Szell, and Russell Davies. But it does blaze away.
Before performing Symphony No. 103 on the second half of the same concert, Harnoncourt makes some remarks to the audience, which are included here (as is an English translation in the booklet). He gets laughs, mostly from his engaging personality, as the talk is serious and interesting: The concertmaster of the first London performance, Viotti, played the same Stradivarius that the Vienna concertmaster plays in this performance. And the slow movement contains a Gypsy dance from Galantha that was written down, was once kept by Brahms, and can be found today in a Viennese library. He then directs a stunning, invigorating performance. One might quibble about details: The timpani roll is once again played as a virtuoso cadenza rather than Haydn’s simple pp sostentuto; the Andante piu tosto Allegretto is fast and jaunty, its ff interruptions explosive. But it all works and is thrilling from start to finish. With all repeats, including the Minuet da capo, this “Drumroll” runs over 33 minutes. No complaints!
We travel to the Lucerne Festival on September 8, 2009, for Welser-Möst’s Symphony No. 98 in B?. Ferociously fast tempos, superb playing, and another fine acoustic setting add up to an exhilarating opening Allegro. Unfortunately, hard-driving tempi and cold, tense execution spoil the Adagio. The rush continues through the Minuet and its Trio, robbing them of charm. The famously lush VPO shows that it can be as crisp as any ensemble when the conductor demands it. The final Presto races along as it should, with spectacular playing, but the violin and cembalo duet in the coda loses some of its humor in all the haste. Despite my complaints, this is a performance that must be heard; the outer movements have never been so superbly played, so thrilling.
The notes tell us that Boulez thinks Haydn a greater composer than Mozart and “puts his words into practice by regularly performing Haydn’s music.” Yet this is the only Boulez Haydn recording listed on ArkivMusic, and I can’t offhand think of another. The “London” Symphony can be a slight comedown from the power and magnificence of its immediate predecessors, but Boulez and the VPO—in the Musikverein on March 24, 1996—deliver a potent reading, at consensus tempos yet superbly calculated and well balanced. The Minuet is easygoing, the Presto finale dynamic. There is little humor, but this symphony doesn’t need it.
The VPO reserves its best performances for “Viennese” composers, whether they came from Rohrau, Salzburg, Bonn, or Hamburg. (The local boys—Schoenberg, Berg, Webern, Zemlinsky—have not fared as well in the Musikverein.) It’s as if the Viennese were guarding what they consider their heritage. This is the best Haydn I have heard from them, preferable to the efforts of Böhm and even Bernstein, whose Haydn was tighter in his New York days. The booklet includes bios of all the stars of this set: the conductors, the orchestra, and the Musikverein—which certainly deserve equal billing.
Symphony no 12 in E major, H 1 no 12by Franz Joseph Haydn Conductor:
Christoph von Dohnányi
Period: Classical Written: 1763; Eszterhazá, Hungary Date of Recording: 11/12/1991 Venue: Musikverein Vienna Length: 16 Minutes 35 Secs.
Symphony no 93 in D major, H 1 no 93by Franz Joseph Haydn Conductor:
Period: Classical Written: 1791; London, England Date of Recording: 05/10/2009 Venue: Konzerthaus Wien Length: 23 Minutes 39 Secs.
Symphony no 98 in B flat major, H 1 no 98by Franz Joseph Haydn Conductor:
Period: Classical Written: 1792; London, England Date of Recording: 09/08/2009 Venue: Lucerne Length: 25 Minutes 51 Secs.