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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When it comes to Haydn, Simon Rattle is a revisionist. The discoveries of the period instrumentalists have obviously caught his ear, but he prefers to translate then into modern orchestral terms. In other words, you get something like the sharply etched phrasing and sprung rhythms of Roger Norrington or John Eliot Gardiner, but with the more luxurious sound of modern instruments.

Finding a convincing balance isn't as easy as it may sound. The finales of Symphonies Nos 86 and 102 seem a little too suave and urbane - the energy moderated, the humour not exactly subversive. Perhaps Rattle could have tilted more towards the extremists there. But one of the wittiest and most energetic versions I know of the finale from No 102 comes from the unrepentantly traditionalist Colin Davis (on Philips) - so ideology isn't the answer.

It's in the more moderate or slow-paced movements that Rattle really shines. The opening largo string phrases of No 2 are unusually telling, with the darkening of the harmonies towards the minor key especially well handled. The slow movement, with its solo cello and muted trumpets and drums, is remarkable both as sound and as musical drama - expression and formal understanding finely balanced. The minuets in all three symphonies are sympathetically paced, and the remarkable adagio first movement of No 22 (a kind of parody chorale prelude with two fruity cor anglais in place of the usual oboes) comes over particularly well - dignified, poised, but with just a hint of Haydnish humour.

It all sounds very beautiful. The EMI recording team - and the Birmingham Symphony Hall acoustic - must take part of the credit; but Rattle does seem to have found a convincing tonal and textural compromise between the old and the new - clarity and warmth, lightness of touch and depth of tone. Is this the way forward? It's an attractive prospect.

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