McGegan “gets” Haydn as very few do. The verve and the subtlety of inflection are pretty much a given with this orchestra, but the savagery with which the players light into the darker parts of these scores bespeaks conductorial incitement.
The result is authentic Haydn. I use no quotation marks, because the instruments used don’t have much to do with it, nor does anything else having to do with by-the-book performance practice. (The tangy woodwind and brash brass on this CD certainly don’t hurt, but they aren’t the key to these performances.)
What matters is just that business of treating the music as intensely serious and yet letting it laugh. That endless canon in the finale of No. 88 has never seemed such a harried chase, nor the darkness of No. 101’s introduction so intense. The music’s abrupt changes of mood actually shock, as they were meant to, though they haven’t done so in most performances for a long time. The movement that gave “The Clock” its nickname is a case in point: I had cataloged it mentally as a piece of Haydn drollery, and certainly the beginning and the faux-pompous ending are that. But there are, shall we say, significant events in between.
And to all and sundry: This is how you play a Haydn minuet. Listen and learn.