Jaap van Zweden

Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 92, 94 & 97

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Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden has a following in northwestern Europe and, since his appointment to the podium of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, in the U.S. The Dallas appointment was largely sealed after a single guest-conducting appearance, and from this trio of Haydn symphonies, recorded with the Netherlands Radio Chamber Philharmonic, one can see why he makes a startling impression. In an age of period-instrument performances of Haydn favoring meaty attacks and big dynamic contrasts, van Zweden goes completely counter to type with very cool, almost Stravinskian phrasing that does a nice job revealing the wind parts. He fools with the phrasing, producing plenty of agogic accents and favoring subtle rhythmic details over long lines. For an example of van Zweden's thinking at its most unorthodox, sample the famous Andante movement of the Symphony No. 94 in G major, the "Surprise Symphony." Hard as it may seem to believe, he turns the surprise into a slight and perhaps quintessentially Dutch smirk. To preserve the obviously required dynamic contrast between the phrase leading up to the half-cadence and the "surprise" chord (to those who've never heard the piece, sorry to be the spoiler), he takes the volume way down in the former and makes the surprise into a little joke. The outer movements, including even those of the grand Symphony No. 97 in C major, are stripped of their jocular tunefulness, but van Zweden finds subtleties to replace it. This is a hard recording to definitively evaluate: it disregards not only current trends, but descriptions of Haydn's music from his own time, but it's undeniably fresh and more than consistently executed. About the SACD five-channel surround sound (sampled on a good conventional stereo) there should be no debate; it's superb, and it perfectly matches the recording's artistic aims. A bit of the shock of the new here.

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