WORKS: The London Symphonies, Nos 93-104
PERFORMER: Orchestra Della Svizzera Italiana/Howard Shelley
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 44371-4
I can’t resist saying it: after listening to many recordings, recently, of Beethoven symphonies sounding like Haydn used to, here is a set of Haydn’s magnificent London Symphonies which sound like Beethoven used to.
It’s not strictly true, but anyone listening to most, though not all of these performances, might place them as having been made about 35 years ago. There is a plumminess to the sound, only partly the responsibility of the engineers, and a general lack of edge in the approach, which is what we associate, not wholly fairly, with traditional, ‘big band’ performances of Haydn.
Not that Howard Shelley and his Italian Swiss orchestra are consistent in their approach. In the swaggering Military Symphony No. 100, it sounds as if the forces employed are large – appropriately so – and they play with an almost Beechamesque swagger. In the last, No. 104, it sounds as if there are far fewer instruments, and momentum is strangely lacking.
One useful thing this lack of uniformity in approach shows is that these are extraordinarily different works from one another; Haydn’s range of moods, resourcefulness of invention, and variety of symphonic structures, leave one amazed and refreshed. One of the times I played this set I listened straight through, five hours in all, and was exhilarated.
Often you want to go back and play one movement again immediately after hearing it. But then I put on the Adam Fischer set and was in another world of energy, warmth and depth. These performances are reasonable, affectionate, but not really to be compared with the finest renderings of these works. Michael Tanner