Ottavio Dantone conducts Haydn Symphonies Nos 78-81

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COMPOSERS: Joseph Haydn
LABELS: Decca
ALBUM TITLE: Haydn
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 78-81
PERFORMER: Accademia Bizantina/Ottavio Dantone
CATALOGUE NO: Decca 478 8837

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These four symphonies, written immediately before the famous ‘Paris’ series of the mid-1780s, have been unjustly neglected, but are done full justice by the Accademia Bizantina and Ottavio Dantone. They are wonderful pieces in which Haydn’s fire and invention seldom flag for an instant. Symphonies Nos 78 and 80, both in minor keys, are passionately intense pieces, and the stormy opening movement of the D minor No. 80 seems to anticipate the beginning of Wagner’s Die Walküre – until, that is, Haydn gleefully throws in a waltz-tune of tongue-in-cheek naivety. The finale is a brilliant study in syncopation, leaving the listener constantly at sea as to where the bar-line falls. Symphony No. 79 begins somewhat conventionally, but the opening movement’s latter stages turn to the minor, and the music takes off in a completely unexpected direction. No less startling is the manner in which the slow movement suddenly accelerates, to end as an Allegro. As for Symphony No. 81, its confident surface is undermined by an aching dissonance that transforms the entire discourse of the piece; while the rustic trio of the minuet suddenly fetches up in the minor, casting a glow of nostalgia over the music. Period-instrument ensemble Accademia Bizantina responds to the music’s vigour and its expressive character. And their handling of repeats (all observed) is imaginative, with subtle changes introduced.

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Misha Donat