Ear Supply: Haydn Makes SSO Jump Through Hoops

The first three movements of Haydn's Symphony no. 60 offer no more than the usual number of surprises and feints, though the second does seem to lose focus and wander a bit. The furious fourth movement sounds like a finale, but from here the symphony goes permanently off the rails. The fifth movement's fragile, elegiac little tune first gets interrupted by banal fanfares—as if some pompous personage showed up unexpectedly and demanded to be announced—and then ends with a weird acceleration over two sing-song chords, like a wind-up toy spinning out of control. At last, the sixth movement (how long is this piece, anyway?) starts thunderously, but after 16 bars the violins suddenly realize they forgot to tune, and stop to wrench their bottom strings up from F to the correct G before carrying on, presumably hoping we didn't notice. (Yes, it's right there in the score: Haydn literally asks the players to retune during the performance.) Not for nothing is this symphony subtitled "Il distratto," or "The Absent-Minded One." Haydn's comic musical portrait of ADD (adapted from incidental music to a farce) ends this weekend's Seattle Symphony concerts. Also, pianist Vladimir Feltsman is the soloist for Shostakovich's equally irreverent Piano Concerto no. 1, in which the composer thumbs his nose at the whole Russian romantic piano tradition—especially in the finale, a steeplechase of the most empty-headed polka tunes he can think up, parodying the barnstorming, ovation-inducing virtuoso flourishes of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff by just having the pianist bang away on the same C-major chord for the concerto's final minute. 

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