Haydn Composed 107 Symphonies. This Conductor Wants To Record All Of Them

<p>(Photo: David Ellis/Decca)</p>
<p>Conductor Giovanni Antonini</p>
Photo: Giovanni Antonini
Conductor Giovanni Antonini

Franz Joseph Haydn never gets the attention he deserves. His friend Mozart and his student Beethoven tend to soak up most of the spotlight, but neither of those guys is called the “father” of anything. Papa Haydn earned that nickname for both symphony and string quartet.

So maybe we need to take a closer look at Haydn. That’s exactly what conductor Giovanni Antonini is doing with Haydn2032, a project to record all 107 of the composer’s symphonies by 2032 -- the 300th anniversary of Haydn’s birth. Antonini’s project, launched in 2014, calls for him to record about six symphonies per year for 18 years.

The new, fifth volume in the series -- a set of performances by the Basel Chamber Orchestra -- feels urgent and vital, illustrating the subtleties and joys that abound in the symphonies. The opening movement of Symphony No. 80 overflows with personality and wit. It’s one of a handful of Haydn symphonies in a minor key, and it begins with a brooding menace. After a minute of pathos-filled drama, four bars of jolly dance music intrude. The orchestra sells Haydn’s joke with an effortless, split-second mood shift.

All five volumes so far are filled with similar exceptional moments that bode well for what the next 14 years have in store.

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