An Imaginary Orchestral Journey

Conductor Simon Rattle leads live recordings of some of the pieces he considers Haydn’s “greatest hits” and celebrates Haydn's innovation, charm, and jokes on WCRB’s CD of the Week.

NPR’s Tom Huizenga once asked conductor Simon Rattle which composer of the past he’d most like to have dinner with. He got a quick answer:

“Some of my favorite music in the world is Haydn. I had a sabbatical one year and made myself one promise: to play a different Haydn piano sonata each day — they are inexhaustible treasures. So Haydn, I think, would be the best company. He's the most humane of all composers and I'm sure we would laugh a lot.”

Now Simon Rattle, in his new role as Music Director of the London Symphony Orchestra, has created a live recording of some of the pieces that he considers Haydn’s “greatest hits.” It’s a celebration of Haydn the incredible innovator, and it unfolds as a sequence of surprising excerpts that Rattle once dreamt up for a concert with his former orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic.  

Haydn himself believed that his own innovative spirit was summoned by the decades he spent in charge of the orchestra at a remote Hungarian palace run by the Esterhazy family. There he was exposed to no one else’s music, and he said he was “forced to be original.” Rattle’s new album Imaginary Orchestral Journey settles on thirteen wildly original moments. The first few toss us headlong into chaos (from The Creation), an earthquake (from The Seven Last Words of our Savior on the Cross) and the desperate state of a suicidal sister marooned on a desert island (L’isola disabitata). Once we hear Haydn’s knack for using fragmented and disintegrating themes in darker scenarios, Rattle brings us into the 64th Symphony, where the potholes and sudden shifts in weather turn charming.

The detours and surprises continue in five more symphony movements, including the touchingly funny “Farewell,” where Haydn has the players leave the stage one by one as a hint to the prince that they need a vacation. Once they’re gone, Rattle brings on music from an empty stage in a selection of pieces for musical clocks. It all ends with the finale of the 90th Symphony and its fantastic fake endings, complete with the properly baffled audience applauding in the wrong places.

The LSO Live label gives concert performances like this a fabulous feels-like-you’re-there kind of edge. You can hear that Simon Rattle considers this to be some of the music that makes him happiest to be alive. You can be sure that Haydn, who was always thinking of his listeners, would have been happy with the presence of the audience on this recording!

Watch a trailer for the album:

For more information and to purchase this recording, visit ArkivMusic.