Haydn's Morning, Noon and Night symphonies – the sixth, seventh and eighth in an output of more than 100 – form a fanciful and alluring trilogy, full of foretastes of later masterpieces but offering many pleasures in their own right.
Usually performed singly they were given a programme to themselves this week by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in one of its Edinburgh rush-hour concerts, with the gifted principal cellist David Watkin as conductor.
Whole Haydn programmes being among life's rarities, it was good to find this one in such exuberant and able hands. The music brimmed with picturesque solos intended to display the versatility of Haydn's original Esterhazy players, whose assistant director he had recently become at the age of 28. These resourceful touches were imaginatively recaptured by the instrumentalists' modern Scottish equivalents, particularly the solo flute but also at special moments the bassoon and double bass.
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The broader picture, ranging from sunrise to storm, with a visit to an opera seria en route, was conveyed with similar assurance. Equally illuminating was the orchestra's grasp of Haydn's already high response to the niceties of 18th-century structure.
Yet we remain far from being in the happy position of hearing early Haydn as a regular event. The impressive size of the audience suggested that the attraction lay as much in the titles of the works as in the composer – would the nameless 36th, 37th and 38th symphonies have lured so many listeners? – but the music was so conspicuously worth hearing and the performances mostly so alive that each work spoke keenly for itself.