Wiener Philharmoniker / Pierre Boulez / Zubin Mehta

Wiener Philharmoniker Performs Haydn

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It's an interesting idea to have seven symphonies by Franz Joseph Haydn performed by the Wiener Philharmoniker, but led by five different conductors. This recording offers Christoph von Dohnányi's No. 12 from 1991, Zubin Mehta's No. 22 from 1972, Franz Welser-Möst's No. 26 from 1998 and No. 98 from 2009, Nikolaus Harnoncourt's No. 93 and No. 103 from 2009, and Pierre Boulez's No. 104 from 1996. The idea looks better on paper than it sounds. While these superbly played performances demonstrate that the Wiener Philharmoniker is one of the world's finest Haydn orchestra, they reveal that not all these conductors are among the world's finest interpreters of Haydn. Dohnányi's No. 12 is poised and polished but not especially characterful, while Boulez's No. 104 has plenty of character, but is so strangely shaped and phrased that one regrets the character it has. Sadly, those are the most persuasive performances here. Mehta's No. 22 sounds like a bumpkin Mozart, Welser-Möst's No. 26 sounds like a run-through and his No. 98 sounds perfunctory, and Harnoncourt's No. 93 and No. 103 sound so oddly, even deliberately eccentric that one has trouble recalling the composer is Haydn, one of most "normal" composers who ever set pen to paper. The Wiener Philharmoniker plays brilliantly throughout, with its customary combination of soul and style, but its virtues are all too often undone by the conductors.

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