Haydn: Arianna a Naxos; Scena di Berenice; Symphony No. 92 (Oxford)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: BBC Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Haydn
WORKS: Arianna a Naxos; Scena di Berenice; Symphony No. 92 (Oxford)
PERFORMER: Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo-soprano); Concentus Musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
CATALOGUE NO: OA 0821 D
A cracker of a concert, seductively low-lit, well shot and edited, well recorded. In his home town for the 2001 Styriarte Festival, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and his Vienna period band first treat Graz’s fine Stefaniensaal to a provocative Oxford Symphony, highly coloured and contrasted, the opening melting, the Adagio martial, the minuet a tease, the finale fierily fugal. Then, Cecilia Bartoli all but steals the show with two of Haydn’s most dramatic heroines, not from operas but concert scenas, depicting the despair of Ariadne, abandoned by Theseus, and Berenice, about to become Demetrio’s widow. As usual, she gives her all – and more – and you can’t help but love her.

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At home, you’re less generous. Your rewards for sitting out legalese and menus: throat-clearing and fidgeting, a nano-glimpse at the hall, the stage’s scuffed boards – yes, classical concerts are terminally unsexy and unvisual. Ah, at last, Harnoncourt’s mesmerising face, the first beguiling sounds. But the permanence of the product and the privacy of your view turn you into a member of the Royle Family: you pounce on the perversities of this Haydn, not its felicities, and you wish guiltily that Bartoli would go easier on the breathy stuff. The extras are weak: for ‘Rehearsal’, read ‘Harnoncourt lectures Bartoli’ (charmingly, interestingly, granted) and, for ‘Portrait of a Festival’, read ‘Styrian talking heads and quartets in Lederhosen’. Enlightenment comes where you least expect it from a DVD, in Misha Donat’s resolutely pre-multimedia booklet essay. Where do we go from here? Nick Morgan