LABELS: Virgin Veritas
WORKS: Symphony No. 88; Symphony No. 89; Symphony No. 90; Symphony No. 91; Symphony No. 92
PERFORMER: La Petite Bande/Sigiswald Kuijken
CATALOGUE NO: VBD 5 61567 2 Reissue (1990, 1992)
Haydn’s late symphonies represent a triumph of synthesis. Numerous stylistic elements – some apparently incompatible – are brought together in glorious fruition. From the early 1780s, Haydn’s writing becomes both more sophisticated and more popular, while (to quote Charles Rosen) a ‘new-found classical sobriety’ sits easily beside his familiar capricious wit. There is evidence aplenty of such fusions on these discs – in the way folk songs are seamlessly integrated into the symphonic fabric (82, 87) or a delicate yet credible balance is maintained between the boldly radical, the subtly expressive and the mischievously comic (most notably in 92).
Though all 11 of these symphonies were written for Paris, it is only the initial set of six, commissioned by Comte d’Ogny, that bears the city’s name. Franz Brüggen’s performances of 82-87 are impaired by a rather boomy live acoustic that coarsens and thickens the sound, though his approach is anyway heavy-handed, phrasing, dynamics and rhythmic sense all seeming cumbersome at times (the slow movements are especially ponderous). Contrast the sharp, exhilarating versions by Bruno Weil and Tafelmusik (Sony); their fierce sparkle sets the benchmark.
Sigiswald Kuijken’s recording of 88-92 offers an accomplished, sympathetic entrée to Haydn’s affable genius. These are the best accounts at budget-price. Graham Lock