Kristjan Järvi’s Characterless Haydn Paris Symphonies

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 4

Sound Quality: 8

Neat, swift, and completely lacking personality–that’s how these performances sound. Like so many conductors today, Kristjan Järvi opts for “period influenced” performance as if applying the correct formula and letting the music play itself is all that he need do. The result has a certain mechanical efficiency, but little beyond that. There seems to be no guiding intelligence at work at all to distinguish one symphony from the next, never mind any expressive emphasis or point of view.

The “Paris” Symphonies are remarkable for their wide range of color and feeling. The transition, say, from the anguished opening of “La Poule” to the barnyard waddling of its second subject ought to be hilarious, and subtly emphasized through phrasing, accentuation, and smart tempo management. Here it passes by with nary a thought. Similarly, the cantabile (so marked by Haydn) allegro theme of “La Reine” needs an expressive vibrato emphasis–that’s what a true “cantabile” calls for, after all–and when the opening of the “Farewell” Symphony bursts in a bit later it should shock with its abrupt savagery. Nope.

Then there are the quick, unyielding tempos of the slow movements, or the the speeds, such as that in the first movement of Symphony No. 86, that don’t allow the players the opportunity to articulate the repeated rhythms, or the lack of earthy emphasis to the drone bass accompaniments in the finale of “The Bear”–I could go on in similar vein. Everywhere we find nice, neat execution, and nowhere the spirit of Haydn. Don’t waste your time and money.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Bernstein (Sony); Harnoncourt (Sony/DHM)

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