Kevin Mallon / Toronto Chamber Orchestra

Haydn: Symhponies, Vol. 34

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This 34th volume in the Naxos label's complete cycle of Haydn symphonies includes the misleadingly number symphonies numbered 107 and 108, also known as Symphony A and Symphony B. They do not come at the end of the series of Haydn symphonies, but in fact are some of his earliest works, having been written in the late 1750s. Each is scored for paired oboes and horns, with strings and a continuo from which a bass line entertainingly breaks free in the Symphony No. 108. They're not major works, but they're full of fresh touches of that kind, and one marvels at the compact sonata form of, say, the finale of the Symphony No. 108 (track 11); the young Haydn was on top of the latest Viennese developments and was bending them toward his own ends. This disc features the Toronto Chamber Orchestra under Irish-Canadian conductor Kevin Mallon, who is sensitive to such details and gets a crisp, bright sound out of his small group (10 violins, 3 violas). The harpsichord is unusually active and audible, which is fine in the earlier symphonies but a bit unexpected in the Symphony No. 62 in D major, composed around 1780. Yet here, too, Mallon is expert in bringing out slyly humorous details. The disc is filled out with a pair of somewhat unusual opera overtures. The three-movement overture to Lo speziale, Hob. 1a/10, is almost like another symphony, while the five-movement La vera costanza overture resembles a musical theater overture, with small chunks drawn from scenes of the opera itself. Neither is recorded terribly frequently, and each is an intriguing little look into Haydn's orchestral mind when it was operating outside the symphonic form. The only irritant here is the sound, captured in a Toronto church, which is big and harsh and makes the harpsichord sound like a Toronto subway train rolling into the station.

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