Haydn 2032, Vol. 13 – Horn Signal: Symphony No. 31 (‘Horn Signal’); Symphony No. 48 (‘Maria Theresia’); Symphony No. 59 (‘Fire’)
Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini
Alpha Classics ALPHA692 80:18 mins
Giovanni Antonini’s ongoing cycle of the complete Haydn symphonies is organised into themes, and this latest instalment takes its title from the ‘Horn Signal’ nickname of Symphony No. 31, with its prominent horn parts. The Symphony begins with a fanfare for all four players which returns at the close of the finale, making this an early instance of cyclic form. The slow movement is a serenade-like piece, with the horns joined by a solo violin; and the finale’s variations include one which again has some virtuoso horn writing.
Haydn’s spectacular high-flying horn writing is, in fact, a feature of all three symphonies here. The instruments were essentially a substitute for trumpets, which Haydn didn’t have in his orchestra at Esterháza, and they lend the sound a special brilliance. In the case of the ‘Maria Theresia’ Symphony No. 48, some sources do have trumpet and timpani parts, but their authenticity is questionable and Antonini wisely doesn’t use them. The ‘Fire’ Symphony No. 59 is more conventionally scored, but musically perhaps more rewarding. Even here, the calm atmosphere of the slow movement is suddenly shattered when a pair of horns erupts into a fortissimo fanfare.
As always, Antonini coaxes first-class performances from the members of Il Giardino Armonico. One or two repeats could perhaps have been foregone: the finale of No. 48 and the first movement of No. 31 both come to such a firm conclusion the first time through that it’s curious to go back for the repeat. But this is all stirring stuff, and it’s churlish to complain.