RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR
‘Haydn 2032 – No 4, Il distratto’ Haydn Symphonies – No 12; No 60, ‘Il distratto’; No 70 Cimarosa Il maestro di capellaa a Riccardo Novaro bar Il Giardino Armonico / Giovanni Antonini Alpha F ALPHA674; b 6 ALPHA675 Producer Friedemann Engelbrecht Engineer Tobias Lehmann
he sort of Haydn-playing you dream of’ is how I signed off my original review, back in May, of Vols 3 and 4 of Giovanni Antonini’s Haydn cycle. And I mean it. Even the occasional gripe (for example minuets played fast, even though that’s the current vogue) doesn’t detract from the superfine accuracy of the playing, especially from the strings. That’s partly because Antonini is not just recording Haydn’s symphonies; he’s performing them around Europe as well. Most earlier Haydn cycles have been very much rehearserecord affairs – some evidently with precious little of the former – but these players’ experience and knowledge of the music really shines.
In truth, any one of the first four volumes of this cycle could have been picked as a winner; that it’s Vol 4 is particularly satisfying for the choice of symphonies. The disc takes its name from No 60, Il distratto, a symphony assembled from theatre music that itself becomes distracted, forgets where it is, mithers around an unresolved chord until it remembers why it went in there in the first place … a fine example of Haydn’s wit. No 70 traces a lightto-darkness trajectory, culminating in the austere knocking rhyhms of its concluding D minor fugue. And No 12, from the early Esterházy days, is in lush E major, a favourite key of the young Haydn’s that often drew from him music of particular beauty. Then there’s Riccardo Novaro singing Cimarosa’s delicious scena Il maestro di cappella, in which the players gang up on their hapless conductor.
You need discipline to bring off such ill-discipline, and Il Giardino Armonico are an army of generals. That pinpoint stringplaying is only part of the story; Antonini’s woodwind soloists too offer playing that’s full of character and he doesn’t hide his horns under a bushel, letting them off the leash to bray and rattle to their hearts’ content. I’ve said it before and I’ll doubtless say it again: if they make it to their planned completion date of 2032 (Haydn’s 300th birthday), this will be the period-instrument cycle to have. Symphonies Nos 80 and 81 are slated for Vol 5 and this Haydnista, for one, can’t wait. David Threasher
JS Bach Six French Suites, BWV812-817 Murray Perahia pf DG M b 479 6565GH2 Producer Andreas Neubronner Engineer Martin Nagorni
The Instrumental category is always one of the most hotly contested, and this year it was blisteringly fine, not least an astonishing Goldbergs from Beatrice Rana, Liszt from 2016’s Artist of the Year Daniil Trifonov and the second instalment in Cédric Tiberghien’s Bartók cycle, one that, for me, is up there with Zoltán Kocsis’s classic recordings. When I reviewed Murray Perahia’s first-ever recording of Bach’s French Suites last November I ended: ‘I’ve only had this recording for five days but I predict a long and happy future in its company’. And so it has proved: others have come my way since (not least Ashkenazy!) but they have just confirmed my initial reactions, that this is special indeed. Not a bad start for Perahia’s first recording with DG after more than four decades with CBS/Sony Classical. What has always characterised Perahia’s Bach is a sense that you are encountering Bach the man, rather than Bach the god. It’s as if Perahia is simply acting as conduit between composer and audience, so subsumed is his ego into the music-making itself.
Click on a CD cover to buy/stream from
One of the particular delights of this recording is the way everything sounds so inevitable – Perahia’s ornamentation is by no means tame but neither is it outlandish; rather, he uses it to underline the mood of the dance in question, be it the dissonances of the Gigue in the Second Suite or the playfully bustling Bourrée in the Fifth. This isn’t Bach that compels by extremes of tempo or sheer motoric brilliance; instead, each suite unfolds with an inevitability that comes from long acquaintance between music and interpreter. It speaks of a probing musical intelligence too, though to label Perahia simply as an ‘intellectual’ pianist would be misguided, for this is playing that conveys real joy.
All of this would be for nought were the production values less tip-top. So we should thank not only Perahia himself, but his longtime producer Andreas Neubronner, engineer Martin Nagorni, the wonderful Steinway, and that whizz among piano whisperers, Ulrich Gerhartz. Harriet Smith
GRAMOPHONE RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR 2017 33