Although classical radio in Washington has brought about an unexpected Haydn-renaissance on the airwaves (those 20-minute symphonies must make for very convenient programming), it’s still a joy to hear them in concert. Haydn (and Mozart) unclog the musical arteries (of the listener and the performers) and it is to the detriment of any symphony orchestra that neglects that part of the repertoire and leaves it to specialist- or chamber-orchestras.
The New York Philharmonic not only had both, Haydn (Symphony No. 85 “La Reine”) and Mozart (Piano Concerto No. 19, KV 459) on their program this week (March 22nd, 23rd, and 24th), but also programmed Schubert’s 4th Symphony – as if to show why the standard classical repertoire is so important. You can’t do Schubert justice if you can’t play Haydn reasonably well.
"London Symphonies" v.1
"London Symphonies" v.2
True, even Sir Colin Davis (his recordings of the "London Symphonies" are among the finest, easily ranked alongside those of Karl Böhm and Sir Thomas Beecham) won’t turn the New York Philharmonic into a Haydn orchestra over the course of a week: Symphony No. 85 in B-flat Major was not particularly light-footed or spritely. But neither was it ever leaden. It had momentum, energy, and was – perhaps not inappropriately given the (then) massive Orchestre de la Loge Olympique it was composed for – imbued with plenty ‘settled dignity’. Not trying to knock your socks off… just pleasure and delightful as Haydn almost invariably is.
Schubert’s Fourth Symphony had the mass of the orchestra well applied, with that ease that had made the Haydn sound good breathing life into the symphony which itself sounds like the meaty continuation of the Haydn/Mozart tradition. Under Davis – here as elsewhere – everything sounded proper and in place; everything was above criticism. Enjoyment – of a very ‘safe’ and ad usum delphini kind - is virtually guaranteed with him. He gently elicits quality… he does not dig or squeeze it out of the orchestra. He takes what he can get from the players (which is plenty, in any case), but perhaps not more.
The highlight and heart of the concert, bookended by these two symphonies, was Mitsuko Uchida’s performance of the F-Major Piano Concerto. Lighter, still, than the Haydn, this playful and bubbly gem was played neither ‘dry and classical’, nor in any way romantically. Notes and rhythm were displayed, not color and tone – and it gently convinced - which is the art of Uchida in this repertoire. The leisurely Allegretto and the invigorating Allegro assai enjoyed the same attention and her delicate, diaphanous sound.
On Wednesday, March 28th, Sir Colin Davis will lead the New York Philharmonic in a concert with Mitsuko Uchida and Radu Lupu before the latter tackles the Mozart concerto No. 27 in a series of three concerts March 29th to 31st.