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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphonies - Vol. 31

Symphony No.18 in G major [13:56]
Symphony No.19 in D major [12:29]
Symphony No.20 in C major [17:41]
Symphony No.21 in A major [16:53]
Toronto Chamber Orchestra/Kevin Mallon
rec. Grace Church-on-the-Hill, Toronto, 20-22 July 2004
NAXOS 8.557657 [60:59]

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I suspect that most would probably not place any of these works in, say, the ‘top’ 40 of Haydn’s symphonies. I don’t say this to denigrate them, or to suggest that they are not worth hearing. Far from it, they are very much worth hearing – the fact that, interesting as they are, they do not hold a prominent place amongst Haydn’s symphonies is merely very eloquent testimony as to just how remarkable their composer’s work in this evolving genre was.

Nos. 18-20 seem to have been written, between 1758 and 1761, for the small orchestra of Count von Morzin, to be performed either at the family castle in Bohemia, where the summers were spent, or at the Count’s winter residence in Vienna. Count von Morzin employed - until he hit serious financial problems – both a small string orchestra and a wind band. Haydn was able to draw on musicians from both. From 1761 Haydn was in the employment of Prince Paul Anton Esterházy, first as Vice-Kapellmeister and then as Kapellmeister proper. Symphony No.21 belongs to the first few years of Haydn’s Esterházy years. Some scholars suggest 1764 as the date of composition; others put it as early as 1761.

All four of these symphonies – the earliest written when Haydn was in his late twenties – show us Haydn experimenting with the possibilities of this ‘new’ form, drawing on materials such as the sonata da chiesa, the Italian overture and the work of the early Mannheim symphonists. No.18 has the opening slow movement familiar from the sonata da chiesa, and the dotted rhythms of that movement give it a somewhat old-fashioned air; the ensuing allegro, however, in its impressive rhythmic drive is more ‘modern’; Haydn’s own ‘voice’ is very recognisable here. No.19, like No.18 is in three movements, but this time the first movement is an allegro in triple time, full of energy. The andante which follows, for strings alone, has a graceful minor-key melancholy and the very fine closing presto has a kind of forceful self-confidence. No. 20 is in four movements, and in its sequence of allegro molto – andante cantabile – menuet – presto it comes closest to the pattern we are familiar with in the later symphonies. The trumpets, horns and timpani employed in all but the andante give a ceremonially festive air to much of the music; in the slow movement for strings alone, the presentation of the opening theme, played by first and second violin above the pizzicato of the other strings, is strikingly beautiful. No. 21, makes subtle use of the wind instruments, not least in the writing for the oboes in the first movement, a lyrical and expressive adagio again reminiscent of the traditions of the sonata da chiesa. Interestingly, the first eight notes of the menuet were ‘borrowed’ (how consciously?) by Mozart in Eine kliene Nachtmusik.

It will be seen, then, that each of these four symphonies is significantly different – in such matters as instrumentation, in number and sequence of movements – from its fellows. It makes for an entertainingly varied disc, on which the Toronto Chamber Orchestra (previously called the Toronto Camerata on, for example, Naxos 8.557656) plays with crispness and clarity, as well as appropriate warmth, under the direction of Kevin Mallon. If you are collecting the ongoing Naxos set of Haydn’s symphonies, played by various orchestras, or if you simply want a disc of Haydn’s early work in the genre, this should satisfy most listeners.

Glyn Pursglove


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