Last year’s bicentennial of Haydn’s death produced a busy round of tribute concerts, some of which are turning up on recordings this year. The period-instrument ensemble Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble recorded the composer's twelve “London” symphonies at the Vienna Konzerthaus in June 2009. Their historically-informed performances, collected on four CDs, may be just what Haydn fans have been waiting for. The set is this week’s Full Rotation.
The twelve symphonies that Haydn wrote for his two visits to London in the early 1790s are some of his popular works. For anyone accustomed to hearing them played by big modern orchestras, with their sometimes heavy approach, it's a revelation to experience French conductor Marc Minkowski’s readings, which elucidate every texture and exploit every nuance. This is a band that has championed Baroque composers like Lully, Rameau and Charpentier and yet they have an admirable understanding of the sound and performance practices of the Viennese Classical era.
Even so, Minkowski’s choices can sometimes seem a little quirky: In the Symphony No. 94, the "Surprise" involves the whole orchestra yelling at the tops of their voices, while the drumroll that gives Symphony No. 103 its nickname incorporates a full-scale cadenza for timpani. Other readings are more straightforward, including those of Nos. 93, 101 and 104. Better yet, the ensemble shows none of the undernourished sound that can sometimes afflict period-instrument versions of Classical works while giving Haydn's cheeky humor its proper due.
Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 93-104
Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble conducted by Marc Minkowski