Giovanni Antonini & Il Giardino Armonico - Haydn 2032, Vol. 9: L'Addio - Gramophone

Haydn’s early musical instance of ‘industrial action’ may have made the Farewell (No 45, 1772) one of the most famous symphonies of his middle period but the revelations here are the slightly earlier No 35 and the much earlier No 15. The vivacity and accuracy of Giovanni Antonini and his period-instrument players can be taken for granted but their identification with these exploratory works makes this disc a standout even by the standards of the series so far.

Symphony No 35 (1767) opens with a lyrical little tune but soon becomes as agitated as any of the Sturm und Drang works of its time and afterwards, with its austere unisons and angular melodies. Treated seriously, as here, rather than as a backwards-looking, slightly primitive link in the chain, it is revealed as a vital step in the fusion of melodic and motivic writing that led to the development of the high Classical symphony. Even the slow movement, which looks to older models in omitting the oboes and horns, demonstrates Haydn’s unparalleled textural imagination in writing for strings alone.

Symphony No 15 (early 1760s) is one of the most peculiar of the works from the beginning of Haydn’s Esterházy employment, its first movement consisting of a through-composed Presto flanked by expansive Adagio sections. Again, in considering it on its own terms, rather than as an ‘early work’ on the way to greater things, Il Giardino Armonico offer the most persuasive recording of it so far. It’s a bold and brash performance, brightly lit and vividly coloured by Alpha’s focused engineering.

The Farewell is the work that comes up against the fiercest competition but these musicians need fear nothing in comparison with any number of other recordings. Additionally, Sandrine Piau rages and laments as the abandoned Berenice in the scena written for the last of Haydn’s benefit concerts in London, demonstrating that in 1795 the composer had lost none of the youthful fire evident from the three Sturm und Drang symphonies with which it is here surrounded.

01 February 2021