Haydn: Symphonies No. 6 (Le Matin); Symphony No. 7(Le Midi); Symphony No. 8 (Le Soir)

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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Symphonies No. 6 (Le Matin); Symphony No. 7(Le Midi); Symphony No. 8 (Le Soir)
PERFORMER: Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
These entertaining ‘Time of Day’ symphonies – Haydn’s answer to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – have done well on CD, with tangy period-instrument recordings from, inter alia, Pinnock (DG Archiv) and Goodman (Hyperion). But this new version from the conductorless Freiburg Baroque Orchestra bids fair to eclipse all comers in zest, colour and youthful joie de vivre. The faster movements, culminating in an explosive evening storm, really fizz; and I loved the way the players treat the minuet of Le soir as a light-stepping waltz, in contrast to the courtly gait of the other two minuets. The crucial solo forays in these concertos for orchestra are invariably deft, with the double bass relishing its unlikely star turns in the trios of the minuets (the rival versions are both a shade wheezy and apologetic here). But the clinching factor for me is the Freiburg players’ handling of the slow movements: the tricky violin-cello duet in Le matin has a wonderful purity and poise, the phrasing fluid and delicately expressive, while the violin recitatives in Le matin and Le midi, complete with improvised flourishes, unfold with a rhetorical, ‘speaking’ eloquence – a quality especially prized in the 18th century. Even the long, potentially tedious Andante of Le soir held my attention here. And as ever, the players decorate repeats with stylish, witty – and occasionally zany – embellishments. One tiny cavil is the placing of all the violins on the left, so that the antiphonal sallies in, say, Le soir’s storm fail to make their maximum impact. But otherwise a winner, with exhilarating, inventive playing complemented by an ideally balanced recording that lets you hear every detail in the tuttis. Richard Wigmore