There have been some excellent performances of these two Symphonies, mostly on modern instruments. Ernst Märzendorfer and Antonio de Almeida provided thoughtful versions of No.80, but, perhaps, these distinguished conductors were superseded in this work by the little-known Prionnsías Ó Duinn. For No.81 there is the magnificent Antal Doráti version with the Bath Festival Orchestra – far superior to the interpretation in his Decca/Oiseau-Lyre set of all the Symphonies.
Bart Van Reyn takes a vigorous view of the music, strong in rhythm but never over-weighty, and his swift speeds are firmly sustained. He pays admirable homage to 18th-century style (this is a period orchestra), and he makes just one concession to later performance style when he observes the first but not the second repeat in sonata movements. In these later works this does no great harm and, rarely for him, the composer requires only the exposition repeat in the first movement of No.80.
Having got the style right it is rather surprising that Van Reyn should omit the last two notes of the Minuet to No.80. Worse still they are also missing before the start of the Trio which is also shorn of its final notes. Perhaps there was an indication to do this in the score, but such instructions are nearly always editorial, and most conductors ignore them. By contrast, the Minuet of No.81, played here with admirable crispness, is a delight, and Haydn’s splendid jest (when suddenly he turns the last eight bars of the Trio into the minor key) makes full impact.
These minor minuet quibbles are within the context of otherwise truly stylish performances. The swiftly flowing slow movements boasting an elegant beauty and the quirky Finale of No. 80 with its main melody seeming always to start on the wrong beat, is delivered with clarity and precision.
The D major keyboard concerto is Haydn’s most popular; collectors have loved it ever since Wanda Landowska recorded it on her powerful double-manual harpsichord. The music also goes well on the fortepiano, and it is gratifying to hear Lucas Blondeel take the same outgoing interpretative view of Haydn as the conductor. This fortepiano is rather shallow in tone, but maybe it helps clarify the many swiftly racing passages. This is a compact performance with no lingering; the first movement cadenza flows firmly – no virtuosic indulgence here. The Hungarian Finale is famous – it responds to Blondeel’s dashing interpretation and a personal liberty can be forgiven when the soloist starts a particularly gypsy-like theme slowly and winds up the tempo to the point where the orchestra enters forcefully.
Van Reyn’s current reputation reflects his work in the vocal field but his stylishness here suggests that he could make valuable contributions to the recorded repertoire of Haydn and his contemporaries.