Thursday 06 August 2020, BBC Radio 3 @ 7.30 p.m.

Recorded at Royal Albert Hall on 15 August 1994

Guest Writer, Antony Hodgson

The crispness and rhythmic élan of the Academy of St Martin’s playing in Haydn’s Symphony 96 typified Neville Marriner’s approach to eighteenth-century symphonic performance.  Sometimes his slightly ‘front of the orchestra’ recordings did not truthfully display his skill in bringing out clear inner detail but this quarter-century-old live taping did him justice. There was lightness of touch and a sense of eagerness using modern instruments in a convincing style.  A sparkling performance although a touch more force from brass and drums would not have come amiss.  An authentic score was used of course, not the once-familiar older version which featured the delightful trumpet and timpani effects in the Trio section.  These are unlikely to have been written by Haydn but if they weren’t then they should have been.

Haydn’s early C-major Violin Concerto was played in immaculate style by Mayumi Seiler: firm, forward-moving and with just a touch of vibrato and balance against the strings was ideal.  The first-movement cadenza was very stylish, carefully reflecting the opening phrase but never over-elaborating.  The calm slow movement was notable for the imaginative playing of harpsichord continuo – the subtle echoes of the violin phrases evoked a feeling of sympathy and the violin smiled its way through the calm but cheerful Finale.

Beethoven’s Concert Aria, Ah! Perfido, did not seem very relevant but this is a Prom and such works typify the programmes. Soprano Adrianne Pieczonka sang with power but was always graceful at lyrical moments.  The words portray anguish but Pieczonka never overstated the high-lying dramatic moments.  Her delivery was eloquent but she allowed Beethoven’s imaginative scoring to underline the implied suffering; a piece to be appreciated for its sound rather than its story-telling.

Marriner’s reading of Beethoven No.4 was in classical mode with beautifully judged speeds including the urgent moving-forward of secondary themes.  There was a touch more force here than in the Haydn and there was greater impact from timpani. The Finale is marked Allegro ma non troppo but Marriner preferred a very fast Allegro and the metronome mark which was added to the score by Beethoven some years after composition does support him.  The rapid tempo is cruel for the bassoonist on reaching bars 184-187 but here this terrifying solo was played brilliantly.