In their recordings apart, neither Mariss Jansons nor the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks have recorded much Haydn. Russian-trained Jansons specializes in Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninov, and Shostakovich and has not heretofore recorded any of Haydn's works while the Bavarian Radio Symphony has stuck with the nineteenth century German and Austrian masters from Beethoven to Bruckner and likewise sidestepped eighteenth century Haydn. Thus this 2008 Sony/BMG disc featuring Haydn's Symphony No. 100 and No. 104, plus the Sinfonia Concertante, is a major departure for both conductor and orchestra.
Against all the odds, Jansons and the Bavarians turn in exemplary accounts of all three works. To be sure, this is modern instrument, big band Haydn: the tone is virile, the attack strong, and the rhythms brawny. But the Bavarians do not overwhelm nor distort the music because the symphonies are already large-scale late Haydn. The 100th, of course, earns its nickname the "Military" because of the enormous percussion section climaxes of the Allegretto and the Finale, and Haydn built the rest of the work to scale, while the 104th is the last and arguably best of Haydn's symphonies with a finale of immense power and might. As importantly, the Bavarians balance the music's might with its wit and tenderness. The woodwinds provide wonderfully characterful solos, and the 104th's Andante is warmly intimate in tone.
Naturally, none of this could be achieved without Jansons' deft leadership. He grasps not just the music's form but its content in performances that sound authentically Haydn-esque. For perhaps the best example of the conductor and orchestra at work together, try the Sinfonia Concertante. Scored for solo oboe, bassoon, violin, and cello plus orchestra, the work receives a performance that's a true partnership with attentive conducting leading a poised accompaniment for elegantly expressive soloists. One can only hope this is the first of many Haydn discs from Jansons and the Bavarians orchestra.