HAYDN Symphonies 6 - 8 'The Day Trilogy'
Haydn’s first symphonies for his new employer, Prince Paul Anton Esterházy, form a group of three for which the Germans have a characteristically mellifluous title, ‘Die Tageszeiten’ (the English is just as unwieldy: the ‘Times of Day’ Symphonies). When I surveyed the available recordings for a Gramophone Collection (6/09), it occurred to me that these early works don’t quite stand up to such repeated listening; conversely, it became clear that many performances manage little more than to go through the motions, offering little of the playfulness of these galant confections.
Not so Sigiswald Kuijken and La Petite Bande in these lovingly presented performances. From sunrise to storm, these players (seven strings, seven wind – petite indeed) are minutely responsive to the drama in these symphonic vignettes: the singing lesson in Le matin’s slow movement; the lunchtime procession and domestic bustle that open Le midi; the quasi-operatic scena of the same work’s Adagio. And not only do these mini-dramas reflect back to them the Esterházy family’s daily life (a result of Paul Anton’s suggestion that Haydn write something along the lines of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons), but the three symphonies exploit the solo skills of each of the orchestra’s principals, from flute to double bass – not to mention heroic horns – each vividly characterised. Haydnistas will need to know that these performances are not harpsichord-accompanied. Tempi are moderate, which is not only a boon in the minuets but enables the solo instruments to speak with full tone in the finales, which are taken less briskly than, for example, Martin Haselböck’s top-rated version. If you don’t have that (or the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra’s equally fine recording with harpsichord), you’ll be hard-pressed to find a finer period-instrument performance than this.