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The 3 symphonies on this CD date from the early years of Haydn’s employment at Eisenstadt, the court of the highly cultured and music loving Prince Paul Anton Esterhazy. The orchestra at Haydn’s disposal was much larger than the small band at his previous employer, Count Morzin, for whom he had composed around 15 symphonies – don’t be mislead by the numbers of the three here, they fall among the 104 at around 16-18 in order of composition!
These three symphonies are a huge advance over the early ‘Morzin’ symphonies – they are four-movement works, with a minuet placed 3rd, and Nos. 6 & 7 have slow introductions. This became the template for the classical symphony for many decades – Beethoven’s 1st, 2nd, 4th and 7th and the early symphonies of Schubert all have the same structure – even in Brahms’s 1st symphony this innovative structure of Haydn can be found. Not for nothing
was ‘Papa Haydn’ known as ‘the father of the symphony’.
These works were designed to show off the skills not only of their composer, but also some of the extraordinary musicians in the Esterhazy orchestra. There are prominent roles for the flute, violin, cello together with the oboes and the bassoon – maybe a nod in the direction of the old concerto grosso as the prince was somewhat conservative in his musical tastes. He was an early fan of Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ and this may lie behind his commission to Haydn of three symphonies depicting the times of day. The depiction of sunrise at the opening of No.6, and the storm in the finale of No.8 are noteworthy examples of Haydn’s genius in using the orchestra to depict programmatic images.
Recording made in 1980
‘The performances are thoroughly enjoyable, as was to be expected, with immaculate ensemble, an instinctive feeling for tempo (though the introductory Adagio of No.7 is surely on the fast side), and some extremely distinguished solo playing from the violinists Iona Brown (in No.6), Kenneth Sillito and Malcolm Latchem (in Nos. 7 & 8), and from Denis Vigay (cello), Raymund Koster (doublebass), Susan Milan (flute) and Graham Sheen (bassoon); and the digital recording (which allows the continuo harpsichord just enough prominence) is beautifully clean and lifelike’ Gramophone, April 1982
Click on any of the works listed above for alternative recordings.