Haydn: Symphonies Nos 78, 79, 80 and 81 CD review – Dantone brings a light touch and good taste

Haydn: Symphonies Nos 78, 79, 80 and 81 – CD review

Dantone brings a light touch and good taste Accademia Bizantina/Dantone (Decca)

Andrew Clements
Wednesday 2 March 2016 15.30 GMT


Over the last five decades, the period-instrument movement has steadily colonised more and more of the orchestral repertory. The process has been very fully documented on disc, so that there are now very few significant works from the 17th and 18th centuries not available in historically informed performances. Yet there are still surprising omissions, and even among the Haydn symphonies, there are works that have never been recorded using the instruments the composer would have known.

Two of those neglected works, Symphony No 79 in F major and Symphony No 81 in G major, are among the four in the collection by Ottavio Dantone and his Accademia Bizantina. At first sight, it’s surprising that these works should have been overlooked up to now by period-instrument bands. They aren’t obscure early pieces, but mature Haydn from the early 1780s, and it was the success of both works – along with Nos 78 in C minor and 80 in D minor, recorded with them here – that brought Haydn the commission for the famous set of six Paris symphonies, Nos 82-87. But somehow neither Christopher Hogwood in his incomplete Haydn series with the Academy of Ancient Music, nor Roy Goodman in his similar project with the Hanover Band, ever got around to recording them, and no other period orchestra has put them on disc until now.

Predictably, Dantone’s performances are models of historical good taste. There’s no harpsichord continuo – still a divisive issue among Haydn interpreters – and with just 15 strings, textures are buoyant and transparent. Rhythms are tightly clipped, and expressive rubato is strictly rationed. It is all a bit on the serious side – there’s surely more exuberance to be found in the allegros of some of these symphonies, even though they belong to the end of Haydn’s Sturm und Drang phase – but Dantone’s touch is always light, and the performance always comes before the scholarship informing it.