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Haydn: the "London" Symphonies, Nos. 93-104; plus Symphonies Nos. 88, 91, and 91.

Haydn: The "London" Symphonies, Nos. 93-104; plus Symphonies Nos. 88, 91, and 91. Eugene Jochum, London Philharmonic Orchestra; Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. DG 474 364-2 (5-disc set).

In 1973 with a pared-down London Philharmonic Orchestra maestro Eugene Jochum recorded for DG Haydn's last twelve symphonies, the so-called "London" symphonies, and they quickly went to the head of the class. The intervening years have not dimmed their luster, and they remain as impressive today as when they were made. In addition this new boxed set of five discs includes three bonus symphonies recorded a decade earlier, Nos. 88 and 91 with Bavarian Radio Symphony, and No. 98 again with the Berlin Philharmonic.

When I wrote about the first appearance of these "London" Symphonies on CD some ten years ago, I said that Jochum produced lithe, lively tempos and spirited rhythms, the reduced forces of the LPO playing eloquently, the whole affair complemented by clean, lucid, well-balanced sound. The same can be said today. These recordings remain among the most natural DG has ever made, with timpani and mid-bass definition more firm than ever. The outstanding sonics are obvious throughout the first four discs in the set, but they are in particular evidence in No. 100, the "Military" Symphony, with its emphasis on percussion and brass. The sound of the three older recordings on disc five still holds up reasonably well, too, almost as good as the newer recordings.

As good as I continue to think the Davis set is on Philips, as charming as the Klemperer and Beecham discs are on EMI, as spirited as the Mackerras series is on Telarc, and as unique as La Petite Bande's original instruments versions are on German Harmonia Mundi, I still say that the Jochum recordings are the absolute best available. By comparison, Davis seems too overblown in sound and performance, Klemperer too inconsistent in performance, the Beecham too thin and noisy in sound, Mackerras too reverberant, and La Petite Bande too inflexible. Not even Dorati in his historic set of complete Haydn symphonies can match Jochum. Music of the classical period benefits from clear, straightforward sound and alert interpretation, of which the DG set is a perfect example.

If I had to fault this new set for anything, it would be the packaging. Each of the discs is housed in its own cardboard sleeve, and the discs are so tightly enclosed they're the dickens to get out without leaving fingerprints. I mean, these companies can produce a disc with a gazillion pits in perfect order but they can't make a paper sleeve that fits it. Go figure.
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Publication:Sensible Sound
Article Type:Sound Recording Review
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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