Haydn Symphonies

The Oregon Symphony, Carlos Kalmar
61:51
Pentatone PTC 5186 612
No 53 ‘The Imperial’, No 64 ‘Tempora Mutantur’, No 96 ‘The Miracle’

We are very fortunate in Scotland in that our premiere chamber orchestra, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, make use of period brass and percussion instruments, gifted to them many years ago by Sir Charles Mackerras, in classical repertoire and earlier, and it is only when I listen to recordings such as this that I recognize the full benefit of this. The Oregon Symphony are doing all the right things, playing with light bowing and no vibrato, the wind and brass players also eschewing vibrato and the more strident tone needed for later repertoire – and yet… There is a burnished tone to the strings which plays against the coolly classical lines Haydn writes, the brass are too wholesome and not punchy enough, the woodwind too rich without being sufficiently plaintive. You will find a growing school of thought nowadays that says that authenticity is not about the correct instruments but only about the correct techniques, but to my mind this type of recording undermines that theory entirely. It is very beautifully played and a fine account of Haydn’s music, if you are not interested in what Haydn intended it to sound like. But I am, and I am of the opinion that once you have heard a good orchestra on classical period instruments there is really no going back. The SCO is a very successful halfway house, where the punchy period brass and percussion add a genuine period flavour to their Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, but when you think about it there is really no logic to being part authentic! Increasingly, I feel that there is equally no logic in buying an inauthentic CD if a perfectly good authentic one is available, so for all the undoubtedly sensitive playing of the Oregon Symphony this is really not for me.

D. James Ross