Carlos Kalmar is a rather frustrating, inconsistent conductor. He recorded two marvelous collections for Pentatone (in 2011 & 2012) - "This England" and "Music for a Time of War", which consisted mostly of British/English music. Then came a big disappointment in 2014, in the form of Copland's Third Symphony. It was largely devoid of drama and a sense of occasion, and the orchestra sounded oddly disinterested.
Now this Haydn disc, which really makes no sense from the get go, has me wondering: Why these 3 symphonies? Of all of Haydn's output, these 3 are certainly not what I would have chosen for a one disc sampling - with the possible exception of "The Miracle" (#96). Be that as it may, the real problem is that Kalmar is so busy insisting his strings play without vibrato - creating an unpleasant, hard, thin, steely tone - and allowing rather slack, lazy articulation, he hadn't begun to conceptualize an overall vision, or sense of purpose for these scores. I heard the same absence of a real interpretation in his Copland. Some composers don't just "play themselves" - there must be some direction and insight from the podium. His Haydn here is plodding, disinterested, and lacking in high spirits. Oh, the opening of #96 at last sparks a bit of life from these players; but still, the essential sense of joy is absent.
Frustratingly, Kalmar tortures us even further by playing every single repeat. The two central movements of each symphony plod on endlessly. How can anyone possibly make Haydn sound so annoying?
Unfortunately, Pentatone does him no favors, providing a rather thick, bass-heavy balance, despite the reduced numbers of strings. The mics must have been placed too close to the (few) double-basses, making them sound rather gruff and overblown as recorded. And the timpani are muddy and muffled, despite being rather forwardly placed in the mix. Very odd. It sounds for all the world like Pentatone wanted a big-band sound, while Kalmar used a chamber-sized one. This weird-balance/mix is most bothersome in #53 and 96, slightly less so in #64 - which, interestingly, was recorded at a concert 3 years earlier than the other two.
So then, this is the biggest disappointment yet to come from Oregon. This is a fine orchestra and I'll hold out some hope for another program which interests their conductor enough to produce another good recording. I hope Pentatone doesn't give up on him until that happens. But I am seriously hard-pressed to understand why they felt a need to record these Haydn concerts. It's mediocre at best, including the recorded sound. Indeed, I can't imagine more plodding, unimaginative Haydn than this.