I have been collecting Haydn recordings for over 50 years so when I read the wildly conflicting reviews of his latest set from classicstoday.com as opposed to those from English reviewers, I was intrigued and bought the set. John Quinn's very favourable review persuaded me to write this. I must say that I disagree with almost everything he says about these recordings. Taking Symphony No.88 first, one is immediately aware of Rattle's meddling with dynamics and tempo fluctuations with fading at the end of phrases which ruins the forward motion and tension. The last movement, for me, is a disaster, flabby, no tension and certainly no joie de vivre. Listen to Furtwangler, Dorati, Fischer, Szell, etc. to see what a wonderful work this really is. Symphony No. 89 fares no better.
Symphony No.90 is an improvement but there is still a lack of tension, and the recording does not help. Where are Haydn's wonderful horns? Almost buried in the orchestral sound. Whether this is due to Rattle or to the recording engineers I do not know, but it ruins the impact of this work. Try David Blum with the Esterhazy Orchestra on what was Vanguard to see how this wonderful work can really sound. Symphonies 91 and 92 fare no better than the earlier works and the last movements, in particular, sound tensionless with little lift or real excitement. Again listen to Blum for 91 and Szell, Rosbaud, Davis, etc. in 92 for real Haydn conducting. As you can imagine I side with the classicstoday review and am a little surprised to find it, for once, accurate in every respect.
I appreciate that we all hear recordings with different ears and minds, and there are rarely definite "right" or "wrong" interpretations. In this case I would certainly advise prospective purchasers to read all the reviews and, if possible, listen to Symphony No.88 before buying. If you like that, you will probably enjoy the set.
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Len Mullenger - Founder of MusicWeb