Haydn. An Imaginary Orchestral Journey
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Simon Rattle, conductor
The Imaginary Orchestral Journey in Theory
The idea of Haydn. An Imaginary Orchestral Journey is not so bad, if you think in theory about it, but it is definitely worse when you think in practice. Conductor Simon Rattle has developed it with the aim to select the “Greatest Hits” composed by Franz Joseph Haydn, who has been considered for too long only as the inventor of the string quartet and that is presented here through other, different works.
All good so far. The idea is ingenious and you begin to wonder about the pieces Rattle has chosen. You are also curious about the way in which the material has been selected and ordered and start asking you if it will be based on a specific theme and how the pieces will sound one after another.
The Imaginary Orchestral Journey in Practice
Looking for a Guiding Thread
Well, the good idea proves immediately to be wasted. The problems begin from the very moment you read the tracklist and realize from which works the excepts have been taken. Rattle has chosen pieces from oratorios (The Creation, The Seven Last Words of our Saviour on the Cross, The Seasons), operas (L’isola disabitata), symphonies (no. 64, 6, 46, 60, 45, 90) and a work for mechanical organ (Music for Musical Clocks). It is therefore necessary to wonder if really such a mishmash can really work – and work effectively.
The next step is trying to find out if there is a leitmotiv or a guiding thread that can give meaning to the forced blend of pieces. I imagined that perhaps Rattle had done something similar to what was done (and continues to be done) by the Alpha Classics label for their Haydn 2032. In this edition, whose purpose is to record all the works composed by Haydn together with works written by other composers to explain better the musical world of his time, every album focuses on a main theme and develops it. If you are interested in Haydn 2032, we have already reviewed the third, “Solo e pensoso”, and the fourth volume, “Il distratto”.
The Weakness of the Guiding Thread and Its Consequences
Differently from Hayd 2032, the Imaginary Orchestral Journey stems from a very weak project. Rattle’s purpose is to celebrate Haydn as an innovator, quoting the composer’s famous sentence «there was no one near to confuse me, so I was forced to become original».
This thread is vague in the best of cases. With few exceptions, you can add every work you want to justify Haydn’s originality and to pretend to have explained it.
The main problem is that Rattle has taken pieces from many works and has placed them here in an attempt to create a completely new one, but without a unifying idea. The lack of this link generates only confusion to someone who listen to this recording, differently – for example – from the Baroque pastiche The Enchanted Island, where arias and orchestral pieces by different composers have been linked together thanks to a new, original plot. Perhaps with opera a new idea is easier to develop in comparison with orchestral music, but this is not a good reason to present a nonsensical work as the Imaginary Orchestral Journey is. In the end, the thirteen pieces of the present collection seem to be linked together for no other reason than their composer’s name.
The Performance of the Imaginary Orchestral Journey
The premiere of the Haydn. An Imaginary Orchestral Journey took place during a concert with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, but the present recording was made during a performance of the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican in London in July 2017.
At this point, due to the weakness (or, better, the absence) of the “programme” the only thing that could have improved the Journey would have been a firm conduction. The London Symphony Orchestra plays well as usual, its colours are rich and well recorded, but Simon Rattle is not quite satisfactory.
Rattle’s conduction is not an enthralling one and it can only be considered correct with some licences. Moreover, apart from the enjoyment of the ebb and flow of music, nothing here is so incisive to make you guess a strong idea. Lightness seems the only purpose of this recording. Sometimes the tempos are too fast and some unpleasant effects – as the one you hear in the Finale. Prestissimo from the Symphony No. 60 – are definitely not valuable addictions to what is, in short, just a routine conduction.