The only reason I haven't given this 5 stars is because DECCA refused to finish the project, one of the more shameful episodes in the scaling back of the production of CDs at the end of the 1990s CD boom. Honestly, if they had even sanctioned the completion up to the start of the Paris Symphonies - three more discs- they'd have been doing us all a favour (plenty 'period' performances of the symphonies after that). Symphonies 76 and 77 were recorded, at least, and were released on a very valuable BBC Music Magazine cover disc a few years back, so its a shame they haven't apparently been included in this re-release (another reason for withholding that other star).
I'm sure listeners have different tastes in Haydn performance, but these are by and large absorbing performances, with fascinating sonority even if you are used to more turbo-charged playing in, for example, some of the Sturm und Drang examples. All repeats are taken, which means some slow movements in particular are very extended, the symphonies take up more discs than usual, and perhaps they lose some of their accepted character as shortish and fun as a result. Here many of them are as long or longer than most of the Beethoven symphonies and Hogwood forces us to hear them differently, whether we like it or not, as extended (and of course entertaining) artworks rather than as frothy entertainments, precursors of something more serious and elaborate.
The original issues included very interesting and detailed notes by James Webster that I don't think you'll get here. Perhaps the length and care going on in this project preclude some of the excitement you might get elsewhere, and there is some controversy over the forces used for the earlier symphonies (quite small, and some would prefer firmer bass-lines than this makes possible). Haydn might of course have preferred larger forces for all his symphonies up to the ones numbered in the late 70s (the first for public performance), but this set takes the line of trying to do them with forces plausibly available to the composer in his real performing life.
I notice that Mr Hurwitz on Classicstoday has written a typically arrogant and derisive review of this set already. To my mind some of his own preferences in Haydn performance are distinctly odd, or at least arguable, but his churlishness at such bounty reminds me of the context of the 1990s when this set was originally cancelled. It was a time when so many discs were being recorded by everybody that most people didn't see the writing on the wall for beautifully documented products by the then major labels. So a great deal of nit-picking ensued of many discs we would be lucky to have issued now. A few years later, after the demise of several Haydn series, Adam Fischer's set on Brilliant classics was, correspondingly over-praised as a complete Haydn symphony set suddenly seemed like an improbable luxury.. Go figure. I like the Fischer set and have it, but it has some serious problems of its own. If Hogwood released all of this now as a complete set, I'm sure reactions would be rather different, if of course still mixed. If you like Haydn, I'd suggest this is pretty essential, as you will have other recordings, but not so many that realise the full potential of their scale and of course for many of them without that period sonority. I should add, as some find this essential info, there is no harpsichord or fortepiano continuo. I prefer it this way, as does Hurwitz, funnily enough, but others may not. Anyhow, its a classic of the supposed crisis of the classical music industry back then, so it is a historical set in more ways than one....