I heard Les Arts Florissants playing Haydn symphony #87 on Jan 11, 2021 (the performance was filmed in Paris in October 2020). Haydn is not one of my favorite composers. Yes, his music is well made and he was an essential step on the way from Bach to Gluck to Mozart to Beethoven to those other dudes culminating in Wagner, Strauss, and the Second Viennese School, which is where I really live. But Haydn's music has rarely thrilled me. Still, I had to tune in because I’m so crazy for Les Arts Florissants and their founder and conductor, William Christie. Plus it was free and what else did I have to do?
As if to respond to my skepticism, Christie and first violinist Hiro Kurosaki did a little pre-show talk where they asked, “Why do we care about this music that was written so long ago?” Their answer: because it’s brilliant. OK.
I would describe this symphony as “brilliant” in the sense that it was filled with light - - it was sunny and smiling and radiated good health and wit. But I would not describe it as “brilliant” in the sense that it was genius. This is a chemical issue with me. I’d make the same statement about most of Mozart, another composer who I appreciate but don’t really love. I once shocked my dear friend Ethlouise by saying that the four hours of *Le Nozze di Figaro* could be neatly summarized in a 45-minute highlights CD.
But let me say this: the orchestra played it like it was genius! And that goes a long way. Their playing bristled with energy, it was a joy to hear. The first movement (Vivace) was charming, it got things moving in a nice way, it laid out the plans and got us involved. The second movement (Adagio) was when I really became engaged - - oh, that flute solo! Heaven! I had a suspicion that Les Arts Florissants was a period-style orchestra but I wasn't really sure I knew what I was talking about so I asked my expert friend, the great flutist Stephanie Jutt:
Q: Do the players in Les Arts Florissants play 18th century instruments or modern instruments built like 18th century instruments? Or a combo?
A: Combo. Likely string instruments are a mix of old and new but they all play with gut strings (as opposed to steel). Most if not all wind instruments are Baroque replicas.
Thank you, Stephanie, for sharing your knowledge with all of us!
The third movement (Menuet) was darling, it was really a dance, which is what it should be. Again, some delicious wind solos. The final movement (Vivace) was similar to the first movement, it trucked along without making much of an impact but then there was a French horn solo and a bassoon solo, both of which filled me with joy.
What a treat, the whole concert is on YouTube (at least for a while):