Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
Symphony no.31 in D major, Hob.I:31 ‘Horn Signal’
Symphony no.59 in A major, Hob.I:59 ‘Fire’
Symphony no.48 in C major, Hob.I:48 ‘Maria Theresa’
Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini
rec. 2021, Euregio Kulturzentrum Gustav Mahler, Toblach, Italy
Haydn 2032, Vol. 13
Alpha Classics 692 
We have now reached Volume 13 of Giovanni Antonini’s complete cycle of Haydn’s symphonies. Once again it will be of considerable interest to Haydn enthusiasts, especially those like myself who are closely following the cycle’s progress. Antonini’s aim is to complete all known 107 symphonies by 2032, the year of the composer’s tercentenary. As with each previous release, the symphonies featured are programmed around a theme. This latest volume is titled ‘Hornsignal’.
Haydn’s employers, the Esterházy princes, were aficionados of the hunt, and the symphonies featured on this disc give the horns a leading role. At the time, the hand horn or Waldhorn was in use. It didn’t have valves and was confined to natural harmonics. There were eighteen horns in the orchestra at Haydn’s disposal between 1761 and 1790. They replaced trumpets, and were instructed to play an octave higher in C alto.
The disc opens with Symphony No. 31 in D major, nicknamed ‘Hornsignal’ as it assigns a prominent role to the orchestra’s section of four horns. Antonini directs an opening movement that is exuberant, infectious and life-affirming. The slow movement is an absolute delight with solos from the violin, cello and double bass. Even when the brass enter everything is kept under wraps. The Minuet is pointed and rhythmically alert. A stately theme with seven variations provides a finale of elegance and refinement.
Despite the high number of Haydn’s Symphony no.59 in A major ‘Fire’, it’s a relatively early work dating from around 1768. It derives its name from its use as an accompaniment to a performance of Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Großmann’s play, Die Feuersbrunst (The Conflagration), which was staged at the Esterházy palace in 1774. It certainly lives up to its name with its volatile character, dramatic intent and intoxicating power in the outer movements. Antonini’s incisive, punchy rhythms in the opener will really lift you out of your seats. The horns of Il Giardino Armonico dazzle and make a striking impact.
Perhaps the most well-known of the three symphonies here is No. 48 ‘Maria Theresa’, one of nineteen symphonies Haydn penned in the key of C major. It was originally thought that the composer wrote it to commemorate the visit of the Habsburg Empress Maria Theresa’s visit to the Esterháza summer palace in 1773, but this is now disputed. Nevertheless, the name has stuck. The horns and timpani hit the ground running from the very start, and the first movement sparkles throughout with effervescences and energy. It has as much punch as the opener of Hermann Scherchen’s 1951 reading with the Vienna State Opera Orchestra, a great favorite of mine, though from a very different era. The Adagio begins with muted strings, and this calm and serenity provides a soothing contrast to the previous movement. There are some delightfully contoured woodwind passages along the way which add a pleasing element of colour. A rhythmically buoyant Minuet is followed by an animated and chattering finale.
Reviews of previous volumes on this site have been strongly positive, and this latest addition will, I’m sure, meet your expectations. The recording quality is top notch, with an agreeable all round balance. The horns, especially, are ideally profiled in the mix. The documentation, in English, French and German, provides the listener with a thorough flavour of the music. Recommended for a most enjoyable experience.
Previous review: Daniel Floyd (February 2023)
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