Haydn: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 10; Symphony No. 11; Symphony No. 18; Symphony No. 27; Symphony No. 32; Symphony No. 37; Symphony No. 107

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: L’OISEAU-LYRE
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5; Symphony No. 10; Symphony No. 11; Symphony No. 18; Symphony No. 27; Symphony No. 32; Symphony No. 37; Symphony No. 107
PERFORMER: Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood
CATALOGUE NO: 436 428-2 DDD
Though a keen admirer of Haydn’s music, I confess I had paid little attention to his very earliest symphonies. How wrong I was! From the breezy, hurry-scurry of No. 1’s opening Presto, this three-CD set kept me captivated with one delightful touch after another.

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Written in the late 1750s, during his brief employment by Count Morzin, these 11 symphonies prove that Haydn was already a formidable composer when he embarked on his pioneering explorations of symphonic form. Many attributes of his ‘mature’ style are already evident, not least his humour and his adroit handling of structure. Set amidst the zestful fast movements are some beguiling gems, notably the Fourth Symphony’s stealthy Andante and No. 11’s poignant, finely wrought Adagio. But those two symphonies in toto, together with Nos. 1, 18, 107 and the festive 32, have quickly become firm favourites of mine.

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Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music have already released four later volumes from the ongoing cycle of Haydn symphonies. They play this music with just the right blend of elegance and vigour, and their smooth, spare textures and clean lines continue to persuade me they were right to dispense with the harpsichord continuo. This is definitely the Haydn cycle to collect. Graham Lock