Haydn: Symphonies 88-92 (CD review)

Also, Sinfonia concertante. Simon Rattle, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. EMI 0946 3 94237 2 9 (2-disc set).

Dull. Veiled. Foggy. Muddy. Beclouded. Vague. Smeared. These were just a few of the words I jotted down as I listened to the sound of Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic playing Haydn's Symphonies Nos. 88-92 on this 2007 EMI release.

Not that everyone will hear what I heard. If you have inexpensive or undiscriminating speakers or if you're keen on listening to music through earbuds, you will probably not find any problem with the sonics at all. Forgive me if that comes out seeming snobbish, but this set sounded just fine on my computer speakers. It was on the big VMPS RM40s in my living room that it sounded as though someone had deposited a layer of grit and grime over the acoustic window.

I'm not sure why the disc doesn't sound as sparkling as it should. I suspect it's because either Rattle or the studio insisted upon recording it live. EMI recorded these performances in concert in February, 2007, Philharmonie, Berlin. I can understand with the tight financial situation in the record industry these days why a studio would want to cut costs by recording live. But you would think that with a conductor so prominent as Rattle, an orchestra so renowned as the Berlin Philharmonic, and a company so big as EMI, they could afford to splurge once in a while on a premium product.

Anyway, this lackluster audio response is doubly regretful when you consider that the performances themselves are pretty good. Rattle adds a little zip to Haydn when it's needed, plays it seriously when the occasion calls, and is generally playful in things like the false endings for No. 90. But when I compared the set to the Haydn Symphony recordings of Jochum (DG), Davis (Philips), Beecham (EMI), and Klemperer (EMI) on modern instruments or Bruggen (Philips) and Kuijken (HM) on period instruments, the sound cleared up remarkably. Another lost opportunity, I suppose.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa