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Symphony no 27 in G major
Symphony no 28 in A major
Symphony no 31 in D major (Hornsignal)

Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia/Bela Drahos
Recorded February 1998
NAXOS 8.554405 [62.41]
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These three early Haydn symphonies date from the 1760s when the composer was settling into his long and fruitful association with the court of the Princes Esterhazy. In addition to strings and continuo numbers 27 and 28 have only two oboes and two horns. In both symphonies, the slow movement is entrusted to muted strings. These are brief and relatively lightweight works, though brimming with the composer's customary inventiveness, charm, wit and energy. The finale of number 28 is particularly chirpy.

The 'Hornsignal' symphony has long been the most popular of Haydn's early symphonies. Though written in the same year as number 28 it is a much longer work; and it shows remarkable structural and stylistic advances over anything that had gone before. As well as strings, continuo and the usual pair of oboes it calls for two pairs of horns (in G and D) and extensive passages for solo flute, violin, cello and double bass. With these additional forces at his disposal Haydn produced a miracle of invention. Apart from the majestic writing for the horns (usually hunting in pairs, but brought together at the beginning and end of the work to thrilling effect) the piece is notable its wonderfully varied dialogues between the solo instruments. In the robust Minuet it is the turn of the oboes to shine. The finale is a felicitous set of variations.

At Naxos prices this disc is worth buying just for the Hornsignal symphony which is here delivered with the utmost panache: the horn playing in particular is electrifying. The sound is clear and spacious. A terrific disc!

Adrian Smith

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