It must be more than 40 years since Frans Brüggen first attracted international fame as a Puckish young flute and recorder virtuoso. Now, a revered father-figure of the period- performance movement and joint principal guest conductor with Simon Rattle of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, he appears gaunt and stooped. But his interpretative approach to the classical repertoire remains inspirational as ever and this latest programme in the South Bank's Haydn: The Creative Genius series abounded in surprises.
It has, for instance, become "authentic" orthodoxy to reduce the number of strings in the earlier symphonies to the tiny forces Haydn had to hand. But Brüggen fielded the OAE's full complement of 25 players in the Symphony No 6 in D "Le Matin", creating a warm amplitude of sound against which this "characteristic" symphony's many concertante solos – the florid violin and cello in the slow movement; the serio-comic bassoon in the trio – stood out the more vividly. His approach to the austere Symphony No 26 "Lamentatione" with its snatches of Holy Week plainchart, was even more remarkable: almost perversely disregarding the headlong drive most performances find in the wiry first movement for a penitential doggedness, yet lavishing the most varied and haunting nuances on the minuet which, exceptionally, ends this symphony.
After the interval, the OAE's principal trumpet, David Blackadder, gave the late Trumpet Concerto in E flat on a modern copy of the instrument Haydn wrote it for. This was an "improved" model of the 1790s with keys to facilitate chromatic notes, if, it seemed, at some cost of security and a certain huskiness of tone, at least at the fierce pace Brüggen set for the finale.
His tempo for the minuet of the great "London" Symphony No 102 was also astonishingly fast, as if to suggest Haydn was about to invent the scherzo. But this only retrospectively heightened the wondrousness of the preceding slow movement, with its sinuous, almost Berliozian, melodic line, aching harmony and faintly sinister muted brass – Haydn as hyper-Romantic!
In the opening movement there were moments where the cumulative intensities of the evening seemed to tell on the players in loose ensemble and suspect intonation, but the spirit blazed through. To write a work capable of moving and delighting audiences of 200 years hence would surely be any composer's dream. To have written more than 100 is a miracle.
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