ALBUM TITLE: Haydn
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 53, 64 and 96
PERFORMER: The Oregon Symphony/Carlos Kalmar
CATALOGUE NO: PTC 5186612 (hybrid CD/SACD)
The ‘Miracle’, No. 96, is one of Haydn’s well-known ‘London’ symphonies, but the two other symphonies recorded here are much less familiar, both dating from the composer’s Sturm und Drang years of the 1770s. No. 64, with its subtitle of Tempora mutantur (‘Times change’), has a genuinely quirky slow movement, its phrases disorientatingly breaking off in midstream, as though the music had momentarily lost its sense of direction; and in its final bars the second horn enters on what must have been its lowest possible note, while the first horn comes floating in three octaves higher, bringing the piece to an uneasy close. Scarcely less individual is the opening Allegro, with its bold chromaticism at the end of each half. Symphony No. 53, if less spectacularly original, is an object-lesson in creating a large-scale work out of the greatest economy of means.
While I’m all in favour of modern symphony orchestras playing Haydn, on this evidence the Oregon Symphony is not, I fear, a world-class band. Although Carlos Kalmar introduces a few nice touches – the rustic flavour of the minuet’s trio in Symphony No. 53, for instance, or the graceful account of its finale – the playing is rather routine, lacking in both elegance and drama (the latter quality particularly wanting in the Miracle Symphony’s more forceful moments), and decidedly short on pianissimo playing. These performances may be adequate, but if you want to know what the Miracle can really sound like, try Claudio Abbado and the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (DG).