Haydn: The “London” Symphonies (CD review)

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

In 1973 with members of the London Philharmonic Orchestra maestro Eugene Jochum recorded Haydn’s last twelve symphonies for DG; they were mostly 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 Jochum and DG made them. In addition this boxed set of five discs includes three bonus symphonies recorded a decade earlier, Nos. 88 and 91 with Bavarian Radio Symphony, and No. 98 with the Berlin Philharmonic.

When I wrote about the first appearance of these “London” Symphonies on CD some ten years earlier, I said that Jochum produced lithe, lively tempos, spirited rhythms, and refined readings, the reduced forces of the LPO playing eloquently, the whole affair complemented by clean, lucid, well-balanced sound. I must say the same thing today as the mastering appears to be the same. These recordings remain among the most natural DG has ever made, with timpani and mid-bass definition firmer 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 Colin Davis set is on Philips, as charming as the Beecham and Klemperer 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 Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, I still have to say the Jochum recordings are my absolute favorites. By comparison, Davis seems a little too overblown in sound and performance, Klemperer a touch inconsistent in performance, Beecham a bit too thin and light in sound (though still delightfully unmatched in his interpretations), Mackerras a mite too reverberant, and La Petite Bande a tad too inflexible. Not even Dorati in his historic set of the complete Haydn symphonies can match Jochum for sheer poise, warmth, zest and zeal. 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. The folks at DG have packaged each of the discs in its own cardboard sleeve, and they enclosed them so tightly in these sleeves, they’re the dickens to get out without leaving fingerprints. I mean, how can record companies produce a disc with a gazillion pits in perfect order but can’t make a paper sleeve to fit it? Go figure.

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:

JJP

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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.

Contact Information

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