The finale of Haydn’s Symphony no. 90 is a dramatic, exciting C major event, with trumpets and drums, much to stir the heart and get the toes tapping. Everything’s bustling along very nicely towards its inevitable triumphant conclusion, which duly arrives. Applause! But, oh no! We’re caught out yet again by one of Haydn’s jokes, giving conductor Paul Brough the opportunity to swivel his head round at the audience and bestow upon them a ghastly grimace over his shoulder, before launching the music onward with increased ebullience towards its true finish. Well, actually tonight’s audience was a little po-faced, some obviously having done their homework and knew when not to clap, but fortunately a few fell deliciously into the trap, for without the enthusiastic clapping slowly withering away into uncertain silence as the music strikes up again, an essential element of the performance is missing.

The Royal Academy of Music Chamber Orchestra’s rendition of that finale was the highpoint of a very fine concert, wonderfully exhilarating and full of joy. The performance of this symphony brought together the full orchestra which had been missing from the performances of the two symphonies before the interval: they had been arranged for wind band with double bass (no. 91) and string orchestra (no. 67), so suddenly when you heard the full orchestra it was as though Lent had ended after a mere day and asceticism had been overtaken by indulgent celebration.

The programme note (by Timothy Jones) informed us that the practice of arranging Haydn’s symphonies for a variety of ensembles was common in the 18th and 19th centuries. So that’s alright then, we need not wonder why Symphony no. 91 was arranged for this concert for two horns, two bassoons, two clarinets and two oboes, with a double bass to support them. In the event, John Goldie-Scot’s arrangement worked well enough, though towards the end I began to feel the need of a change of timbre. There was some very beguiling oboe playing throughout this performance, and the modulated passage of the second theme from soloist to soloist very nicely carried off. The bassoon variation in the Andante came over well, but the great final variation, where the horns are playing high and the rest of the orchestra goes off into rollicking trills, wasn’t quite a wild as a full orchestra can make it.

It was a drastic but welcome change in palette when the wind band filed out and the string orchestra embarked on the Presto of Symphony no. 67. Antony Hodgson, in his great book on Haydn symphonies, remarks that although it’s a presto, “it makes its best effect when not hurried”. If Paul Brough had read this, he certainly took no notice – the movement was deliciously quick. The Adagio is a beautifully restrained and elegant movement whose restraint suddenly becomes a shock when the players achieve a hushed ending by turning their bows upside down to play using the back of the bow, col legno. Indeed, there is much that is unusual and delightful in this work. Why, you wondered, was the leader of the second violins fiddling with her tuning whilst her colleagues played the jaunty minuet, only to hear her play a determined but ghostly drone on an open string tuned down a bit whilst two first violins play a slow folkish dance above in the trio – a strangely macabre effect. The stamping allegro of the finale is interrupted by a lengthy adagio central section for two violins and cello, an unexpected excursion into melancholy songfulness, before the jolly thumping allegro returns to supply a suitably joyful close. It was performance that left you wondering if you’d really quite got a grip on what was going on in this music – which is just as it should be.

The full orchestra performance of Symphony no. 90 seemed to be clarity itself, joyful and dramatic, full of interest but basically untroubled. The joke on the audience was not the only unexpected drama of the performance. In an early fit of enthusiasm conductor Paul Brough’s baton snapped and flew into the air, liberating him to conduct with just hands and occasional pointed forefinger – with no obvious detriment to how the musicians played.

But by far the most important thing about this concert was that it happened at all. I am desperate to hear Haydn symphonies. The music establishment, and audiences too, pay lip-service to the idea of Haydn as a great symphonist, but most of his symphonies are rarely played at all, and those that are played are nearly always treated as a mere warm-up for the real exercise of the evening. Yet, if you listen mindfully and alert, and begin to comprehend the extraordinary variety Haydn generated, there is so much that is blissfully rewarding in these works – as this concert amply demonstrated.