Ahhh -- a collection of Haydn's "Name Symphonies!" Why not? Giving symphonies nicknames was the original marketing gimmick, a quick and easy way for listeners to remember what piece was what. How much easier it is to recall the "Surprise" Symphony than his Symphony No. 94 in G major -- it's the one with the big crash in the slow movement -- to recall the "Farewell" Symphony than his Symphony No. 45 in F sharp minor -- it's the one where all the players leave the stage one by one in the finale -- and to recall the "Drumroll" Symphony than the Symphony No. 103 in E flat major -- it's the one with the percussion explosion in the slow movement.
Still, the recordings of Haydn's Name Symphonies in this 11-disc set issued here by Brilliant form as fine a collection of performances of the works as one is likely to hear. Recorded between 1987 and 2001 and originally released as part of a cycle of the complete symphonies, these smart, stylish, and soulful performances of the 31 nicknamed symphonies by Hungarian conductor Adam Fischer leading the hand-picked Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra are easily in the same league as the best performances since the war. And since they were recorded in the Haydnsaal in Esterhazy Palace in Eisenstadt, Austria -- that is, in the very hall in which most of Haydn's symphonies were premiered -- the sound is rich, colorful, and wonderfully evocative. Although not for the Haydn completist -- they may want to have Fischer's recordings of all 104 symphonies -- this collection of his Name Symphonies will remind more casual listeners why Haydn is rightly considered one of the greatest symphonists of all time.