Haydn: Symphonies Nos 22 (The Philosopher), 86 and 102 City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Sir Simon Rattle (EMI 5 55509 2)

'When it comes to Haydn, Rattle is a revisionist. The discoveries of the period instrumentalists have obviously caught his ear, but he prefers to translate them into modern orchestral terms...' 'Rattle never dandifies this music: poise and robustness go hand in hand, elegance is tempered with wit, charm with good humour. Try the Menuet of No 86 for size. I defy you not to smile'
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True to form, Rattle wants us to be as startled by the opening of Symphony No 22 as he is. Here's an odd assembly - a pair of horns, a pair of cor anglais (not oboes, note) in earnest discourse over an immutable bass line. A polite harpsichord continuo dances attendance. Violin suspensions introduce a note of disquiet into the debate. But the music maintains its grave composure. What starts out sounding like a slow introduction remains so. No breezy turn-around, no upbeat allegro - but a thinking man's first movement (not for nothing did the symphony become known as "The Philosopher").

Rattle delights in all of Haydn's surprises; he capitalises on them. No musical "incident" escapes his ear - or ours. In the spacious introduction to No 102, the greater the mystery, the less the vibrato, Rattle appears to have advised his CBSO strings (period manners without the instruments). It's a marvellously unvarnished sound. Likewise, the big, resilient Allegro. And my goodness, Beethoven is waiting to happen in the fierce, disorienting modulations of the development. A simple crescendo - the distant rumble and sudden roar of a timpani roll - carries such import in a Rattle performance.

The drama is in the contrast, the tension between loud and soft, rhythmic and sustained, action and repose. Note how Rattle characterises Haydn's "operatic" deployment of silence and declamation in the slow movement ("Capriccio") of No 86. And never take for granted the musical good sense of his phrasing. The exquisite main theme of the Adagio from No 102 is sung through, as in one breath, the embellishment in the tail of the melody lending an enchantment out of all proportion to the notes on the page. And again, note how he points up the extraordinary effect of the muted trumpets in this movement. You may have heard the piece many times before, but you want to know what happens next.

Best of all, Rattle never dandifies this music: poise and robustness go hand in hand, elegance is tempered with wit, charm with good humour. Try the trio of the Menuet of No 86 for size. I defy you not to smile.

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