HAYDN: Symphonies Nos. 78, 79, 80 & 81 – Accademia Bizantina/ Ottavio Dantone – 
Decca (2 CDs)

Beautifully recorded and rendered, these original instrument realizations of rare Haydn symphonies do everyone honor.

HAYDN: Symphony No. 78 in c; Symphony No. 79 in F Major; Symphony No. 80 in d; Symphony No. 81 in G Major – Accademia Bizantina/ Ottavio Dantone – Decca 478 8837 (2 CDs), 54:20, 55:10 (2/12/16) [Distr. by Universal] *****:

Recorded June-September 2015, this little-known quartet of Haydn symphonies 78-81 dates from the years 1782-1784, when Haydn still served as kapellmeister to the Esterhazy family in their spectacular summer and winter palaces in Esterháza (present day Hungary) and Eisenstadt (Austria), where the music was first performed. Collectors will know these works through the Antal Dorati editions he led with Philharmonia Hungarica, or individually: for instance, the one symphony familiar to me, the sturm und drang No. 80 in d minor, I first heard in a live broadcast of the New York Philharmonic under Dimitri Mitropoulos. Decca plans a 36-CD edition of the complete Haydn Symphonies as performed on period instruments.

We might begin with Dantone’s reading of the said No. 80 in d minor: though not “officially” part of the composer’s sturm und drang compositions, it opens with a fierce gesture in tremolo – only a stone’s throw from Wagner – that has, most humorously, a secondary subject thoroughly whimsical, one of those “The Hen” motifs directly from the barnyard. This secondary matter prevails for the movement’s development section, which proves a total surprise, given the dramatic intensity of the beginning gesture. The Adagio remains gracious, only interrupted intermittently by more agitated figures. The dark tones of the strings might be attributed to the modal writing in Mozart’s Masonic music. While the Menuetto begins in the dark humor of the first movement, its Trio invokes an ancient chant in the Gregorian style. The syncopated figures of the Presto, as pungent and aggressive as they first appear, subside into a playful D Major. Dantone’s ensemble has made the entire excursion clear and eminently buoyant in all parts.

Haydn conceived his Symphony No. 78 in c minor (1782) for a projected trip to England which fell through. Haydn openly admitted he wanted the work to sound in the manner of composers J.C. Bach and Carl Friedrich Abel. The opening movement, Vivace, does project the jabbing, sturm und drang, unison motion we know from Mozart Piano Concerto, K. 491. The woodwind writing, propelled and piquant, bleats out in a fashion consonant with a militant or hunting call, suspensions, and leaps in the strings and horns. Both the Adagio (in E-flat Major) and the Menuetto & Trio (in C Major) conform to Haydn’s sense of the galant style. Haydn opts for his favorite sonata-rondo form and a set of double variations in the Finale: Presto, which opens in c minor and concludes in the optimistic C Major. The eminently “playful” character of this music infiltrates each measure, stopping and starting, injecting sudden accents and off-beats. Haydn calls this symphony “easy,” but Dantone and ensemble reveal its clever intricacies, a clear reflection of musical genius.

The Symphony No. 79 no less injects a definite sense of humor, especially in its energetic rhythmic thrust, given at the opening Allegro con spirito, in an eight-measure phrase whose underlying support generates forward motion under long-held notes. Staccato and legato motifs then play off in counterpoint, making this work a “learned” occasion in the spirit of the “London Bach.” In the course of the development, Haydn includes some daring modulations that contribute to our sense of musical adventure. Haydn marks the second movement Adagio cantabile, but its fourth measure sets up a thematic continuity for the succeeding Un poco allegro later in the movement. Musical continuity and pregnant silences proceed in eight-measure phrases. Accademia Bizantina achieves some soulful intimacy in this movement. Elisabeth Baumer and Guido Campana do honors to the oboe part of the Menuetto, with ample sonority in the horns, Lionel Renoux and Serge Desautels. The Finale: Vivace proffers another well-wrought rondo, which in its course of development explores the relative minor. Elastic and scathing accents from the original instruments propel this music affectionately but no less incisively, much in the manner of the more familiar finale from Symphony No. 88 in G.

The opening alone of the Symphony No. 81 in G – a big chord followed by solo cellos on a repeated G, then violins above and below in F and C – make the music immortal, enough so that Mozart followed suit in his 1785 “Dissonance” Quartet. The shimmering tension of the first movement testifies to Haydn’s wild, impulsive character as much as to his urbane wit. A siciliano provides the impetus for the Andante in compound time that provides flute Marcello Gatti his special colors – along with his woodwind compatriots – as the four variations proceed. Bassoon principal Alberto Guerra dominates the hurdy-gurdy-style Trio of the ensuing, hearty Menuetto, his playing over a repeated string chord for an uneasy laendler effect. The Finale: Allegro, ma non troppo remains relatively monothematic, intimating a ‘cyclic’ connection to the first movement, as witty and pungent as it is musically economical.

—Gary Lemco

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