Audience goes wild at RSNO’s Naked Classics Haydn concert

Haydn: Symphony No. 104 “London”: Paul Rissmann (presenter), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Roy Goodman (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 20.5.2011 ( SRT )

This season’s final Naked Classics was another hit thanks to Rissmann’s clear style of presentation and some excellent period-inflected playing from the RSNO. Most other pieces Rissmann has covered have been descriptive or deliberately evocative in style (Mussorgsky’s Pictures, Shostakovich’s Fifth): not so for Haydn’s London Symphony, so Rissmann’s approach was more analytical and technical than I’ve heard him before, but it worked extremely well, clarifying terms and choosing some apposite examples to illustrate Haydn’s argument and structural workings.

Tonight the conductor played a more prominent role than I’ve seen in previous Naked Classics evenings, but that is as it should be when the conductor has the expertise and know-how of Roy Goodman. Goodman’s fame as a “period” practitioner meant that he was always likely to bring that inflection to the music and he illustrated very well issues such as the importance of a slur or the effects of vibrato. The performance itself sparkled with energy and plenty of period touches, such as the characteristic lean into a phrase which removes the gloopy homogeneity of many performances.

The distinctive thwack of natural timpani leavened the texture too, and Goodman showed great skill in stretching Haydn’s dynamic and tempo markings to play up the element of surprise that should lurk close to the surface of all Haydn’s works. The crowd went wild at the end, and if the evening has got even a handful of people more interested in Haydn then it will have been a job well done.

Naked Classics will return next season with Sibelius, Prokofiev and Mendelssohn.

Simon Thompson