Franz Josef Haydn: Symphonies Nos 104 in D Major, “London”, Hoboken 1/101, 88 in G Major, Hoboken 1/88, & 101 in D Major, “Clock”, Hoboken 1/101
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, Nicholas McGegan (Conductor)
Recorded live at First Congregational Church, Berkeley, CA (2007, 2008, & 2009) – 75’15
Philharmonia Baroque Productions: PBP-02 – Liner notes in French, English, & German
Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra with Nicholas McGegan as musical director is a San Francisco-based musical institution that has never been overly glamorized. Yet, for some twenty-five years, they have been performing at the best level under the baton of an esteemed baroque conductor. Since they started their own production company last year, this is already their third recording under their own label, adding to a long list of commendable performances previously released by harmonia mundi.
We do have here a fine recording on period instruments, spontaneous and rich throughout, that captures Haydn’s playfulness, inventiveness, and mystery. Despite a choice of fairly jaded works by this composer, McGegan’s commitment manages to hold the listener’s excitement. The adrenalin of performing in front of an appreciative (and well-behaved) audience is palpable and confers to this rendition a more than welcome freshness and immediacy that studio recordings lack most of the time. Good moments abound, namely the trio section of the Menuetto in Symphony 88, the athletic sounding finale of Symphony 104, as well as an infectious and lively third movement and minuet. Contrary to the fast, almost Allegretto, tempo chosen in the Andante of the Clock Symphony, the Vivace, taken at a slower-than-usual pace, makes the fourth movement sound a little perfunctory and more academic than exuberant. This reservation – a matter of taste, indeed, knowing that no performance of these works follows Haydn’s markings to a T – does not compromise the overall quality of this warm, affecting recording.