Haydn: Symphonies Nos 88-92; Sinfonia Concertante in B flat

COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: EMI
ALBUM TITLE: Haydn
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 88-92; Sinfonia Concertante in B flat
PERFORMER: Jonathan Kelly (oboe), Stefan Schweigert (bassoon), Toru Yasunaga (violin), Georg Faust (cello); Berlin PO/Simon Rattle
CATALOGUE NO: 394 2372
Falling as they do between the six Paris and the 12 London symphonies, Nos 88-92 are often overlooked. It’s true that the first of the group was famously recorded by Furtwängler and the Berlin Philharmonic, and that the Oxford No. 92 gets the occasional airing. But how many Haydn-lovers know No. 89, with its astonishingly developmental recapitulation; or No. 91, with its slithery chromatic main subject in invertible counterpoint? To hear this great music played by an orchestra of the calibre of the Berlin Philharmonic is a rare treat indeed.

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The finale of the C major No. 90 features Haydn’s most outrageous ‘wrong ending’ joke, with the music coming to an emphatic full-stop, followed by a long pause before it continues pianissimo in a wholly unexpected key. If you do both repeats, as Simon Rattle does, you can elicit applause in the wrong place twice over. Haydn, no doubt, would have been delighted, but since there isn’t a peep out of the audience anywhere else, the inclusion of applause covering the music here is bizarre, to say the least. Fortunately, there’s a supplementary track without the intrusion, but you have to remember to programme it in.

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These are all highly polished performances, with particularly delightful accounts of the rustic trios in the minuets of Nos 88 and 89. Just occasionally, Rattle’s approach can seem a touch over-sophisticated, and the decorations in the repeats rather self-conscious, but that’s a small point. Bernstein and the VPO offer glowing accounts of Nos 88 and 92, but among non-period performances of the intervening symphonies Rattle is in a class of his own. Misha Donat