Haydn: The London Symphonies: Vol. 1: Symphony No. 94 (Surprise); Symphony No. 98; Symphony No.104

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COMPOSERS: Haydn
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: The London Symphonies: Vol. 1: Symphony No. 94 (Surprise); Symphony No. 98; Symphony No.104
PERFORMER: Philharmonia Orchestra/Leonard Slatkin
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 62549 2 DDD
Leonard Slatkin writes that his intention on this disc was ‘to retain the spirit of the 18th century, while using the resources of the 20th-century orchestra’. Resources or handicap? Because, after hearing recent Haydn recordings by Roger Norrington and the London Classical Players (Symphony No. 104, EMI) and Frans Brüggen and the Orchestra of the 18th Century (Symphony No. 98, Philips), I’d contend that a good period orchestra can produce a more vibrant and dramatic sound than its modern counterparts.

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That aside, Slatkin has coaxed powerful, engaging performances from the Philharmonia Orchestra. Tempi are nicely judged, dynamics well focused and Slatkin himself is less prone to the little eccentricities of interpretation that occasionally mar the Norrington and Brüggen discs. He’s especially impressive on the majestic Symphony No. 104 (London), Haydn’s public farewellto London, which is played here with a thrilling exuberance. No. 98, with its forlorn Adagio cantabile, is persuasively touching, while No. 94 is all genial élan (though its second-movement ‘surprise’ could be more fortissimo).

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These qualities augur well for the future volumes of Slatkin and the Philharmonia Orchestra’s London Symphonies cycle. Meanwhile, the four-CD set by Colin Davis and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra (Philips), which offers consistently stylish performances at mid-price, remains outstanding value. Graham Lock