Haydn: London Symphonies: Symphony No. 93; Symphony No. 94 (Surprise); Symphony No. 95

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: London Symphonies: Symphony No. 93; Symphony No. 94 (Surprise); Symphony No. 95
PERFORMER: La Petite Bande/Sigiswald Kuijken
CATALOGUE NO: 05472 77275 2 DDD
Three new issues which demonstrate the extraordinary variety of performance styles available when it comes to recordings of Haydn symphonies. Kuijken’s disc is the first in a projected series of authentic-instrument recordings of the London symphonies with La Petite Bande. The playing displays all the period-performance virtues, with fresh, transparent orchestral colouring, dynamic contrasts pointed up within movements as well as between them, and plenty of character in the wind solos. Tempi are lively, without being hard-driven, rhythms well sprung, and the grandeur, humour and sheer novelty that so struck the Hanover Square audiences who were the first to hear these irresistible works are fully brought out.

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Putting on the VPO disc after this is like slipping into a warm bath – and just about as exciting. This is modern-instrument Haydn, with a weightier, well-blended sound which reflects the golden glow of the Musikverein, Vienna, where the recordings were made. The playing is superbly polished, but the old-fashioned style of performance, complete with expansive slow movements and heavy-footed minuets, makes for rather bland listening. Poor value, too – there would have been room for another symphony.

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Modern instruments used to much more exciting effect can be heard from the Northern Chamber Orchestra. These are crisp and spirited readings of three symphonies from Haydn’s impassioned Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) period. La Passione is the best known but the Lamentatione and No. 35, with its unusual high horns, give equal pleasure. Matters of balance and tempo are just right and the recordings are excellent. A winner. David Michaels