Devoid of programmatic suggestions it may be, but Symphony No 42 represents Haydn’s middle-period symphonies at their finest and most abstract. Here, in a bright-coloured work in D major, he reveals the power of his symphonic grasp, with effortlessly achieved structural modulations, a cogency of thematic material and a shrewd sense of dramatic timing. No better are these qualities displayed than in the beautifully paced opening ‘Moderato e maestoso’ (these more descriptive movement headings, uncommon in Haydn, but to become familiar in Beethoven’s music, unusually preface three out of the four movements here). The slow movement is more expansive, allowing for the gradual elaboration of its two main themes. The Minuet is notable for its motivic simplicity and sparely-scored trio, while the finale represents one of the earliest, fully-fledged rondo movements for which Haydn was soon to become renowned. Here the main theme is presented by the strings alone and scored in only two voices—upper and lower strings. The wind have the second theme to themselves while the strings return with a varied version of the main idea. Thus the movement continues, finding room before its conclusion for a couple of witty, virtual disintegrations of the theme and musical flow.
from notes by Matthew Rye © 1992