Nicholas McGegan / Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra

Haydn: Symphonies Nos. 88, 101 & 104

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AllMusic Review by V. Vasan

The classics of Haydn remain classics precisely because his music has been beloved through the centuries. But in order to keep the music fresh, the artists must create worthwhile interpretations, or else it becomes yet another recording. There is no danger of boring the listener in this exciting album by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Nicholas McGegan. Each of the three symphonies here has something to say and is distinctly its own work. The "London" Symphony begins like a bell darkly tolling, and the orchestra plays perfectly in unison. But this introduction gives way into a starkly contrasting allegro. The orchestra offers a light, crisp Baroque sound, sounding slightly tuned-down. It pays careful attention to each line, for each line speaks, each accent is observed (such as in the Menuetto and Trio). The Andante once again shows a stark contrast between the pulsing, pausing, courtly dance of the beginning that shifts into violent passion and then stately grace. It is to the orchestra's credit it is able to switch musical moods so quickly and yet so appropriately. There is an edginess to the PBO's style, which is certainly engaging, though it can occasionally come across as choppy; this may be due in part to the recording quality. The Finale is indeed spirited, aggressively vigorous and active: this ensemble does not sleep, and nor does it intend to let the listener sleep, either. Once again, the orchestra has great vigor as it begins the Symphony No. 88 in G major. The fast passages do not seem to daunt them, for they are carried out, as well as the little turns in the Menuetto, with perfect precision. A fast tempo keeps the music stirring, even when it whirs and murmurs into the beginning of the Finale. The third work on the album is Haydn's "Clock" Symphony, and despite its mysterious beginning, it pulses with energy throughout the movements. One wishes to skip and dance through the Andante, which features remarkable counterpoint (though there is a certain lushness that is missing). The orchestra is certainly capable of bowing longer, more lyrical lines as in the fanfare-like Menuetto: Allegretto, and perhaps it could aspire toward that type of sound more often. The Vivace concludes the symphony and the album with its beautiful, dynamically shaped phrases that please the ear. Conductor McGegan and his orchestra deserve the copious applause on this live album.

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