3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
This box set makes a very desirable set, well recorded and at a very attractive price point. The performances remain within the 'traditional' range which may be surprising to some, bearing in mind Harnoncourt's reputation as a 'period' conductor. Sleeve notes are non-existent but the recorded contents are of high quality and economically generous. I would suggest that the internet would be a ready source of relevant information should any be needed.
What we have here is a period conductor bringing his 'period' beliefs to bear upon a traditional orchestra of fair size, judging from the recording, and playing modern instruments. For many this will be the ideal compromise or solution as to whether to favour traditional or period performances. Harnoncourt later made an even finer set of the Paris symphonies with the same orchestra but with 'natural' brass replacing the modern, more powerful but less cutting, brass. This is a development that has become a popular middle course.
Harnoncourt, in these London symphonies, follows fairly traditional ideas of tempi, although generally on the quicker side of average. However, none of these speeds are in any way excessive and they can still be recognised as 'middle of the road.' Minuets are slightly slower than in many period aware performances and the trio sections also slow down a little more than might be expected.
When considering dynamics, on the other hand, while obviously observing accuracy throughout these performances, Harnoncourt takes maximum opportunities to create as much dynamic contrast as possible within the available range with the inevitable proportional increase of dramatic effect. This is a marked feature of this set. However, by way of further comparison, his later Paris set is noticeably even more dramatic, driven and less 'traditional' than this set.
In general this set could be described as being very energetic with a thrilling level of 'verve' throughout. The link with the earlier Sturm und Drang period in Haydn's output is evident. This is in marked contrast to the more gentlemanly approach of a Beecham for example and is far cleaner and incisive in its attack than Jochum, Dorati or Davis from earlier times - sets that were at one time seen as cutting edge but could seem rather dull compared to Harnoncourt, Weil or Pinnock of current times. One thing that is also a marked feature of the set is Harnoncourt's evident awareness of Haydn's sense of humour and this aspect of Haydn's music is clearly demonstrated whenever appropriate and to an appropriate degree. This has the effect of nicely balancing the dramatic nature of the set and prevents it from becoming over-driven.
I would suggest that this is a well-observed and enjoyable set with a clear awareness of period considerations but not excessively so - it is still played on modern instruments with a reduced size orchestra. It will not be the ultimate choice for hardened followers of the period movement but it is further along that route than performances from the 'big band' orchestra days of Bernstein, Szell and Karajan for example or the other sets as mentioned earlier. Nevertheless, this set could not be described as a chamber orchestra version in the sense of its heightened dramatic scale of attack and incisively weighty precision.
In conclusion I would suggest that this set is likely to appeal to both traditionalists and also period orchestra followers. Period performance followers (supporters of Bruno Weil, Hogwood or Pinnock for example) will still enjoy these too for their undeniable verve. In the end, this will be a matter of personal preference as regards style and scale of performance and whether you wish to purchase an 'only' set or an alternative version within a larger collection. This set could be the ideal compromise.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 July 2013
Everybody who loves classical symphonies should own a set of Haydn's London symphonies. The merits of the different versions are reviewed in depth by more qualified listeners elsewhere, but for me, I believe that Harnoncourt brings his experience in conducting period bands playing authentic instruments to these recordings featuring a modern orchestra. Simply beautiful music which is well recorded too. The CDs are conveniently packaged in a neat cardboard box with cardboard sleeves.