Various Artists

Ultimate Haydn

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Only by a fair-sized stretch of the imagination could this five-disc set, The Ultimate Haydn, actually be considered the ultimate collection of the great Austro-Hungarian composer's works. Included are five symphonies, four concertos, three string quartets, one mass, and two brief cantatas, which represent only a small fraction of the composer's vast oeuvre. While the selections themselves are characteristic of the composer's work in the various forms -- the "London" Symphony, the "Emperor" Quartet, and the "Nelson" Mass are all present and accounted for -- the performances are a hodgepodge. Decca has chosen high-intensity readings of Symphonies No. 95 and No. 104 by Georg Solti and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and three smaller scale, more genial readings of Nos. 94, 96, and 100 by Antal Dorati and the Philharmonia Hungarica. For the concertos, there is Mstislav Rostropovich's muscular interpretation of the Cello Concerto with Benjamin Britten leading the English Chamber Orchestra, Barry Tuckwell's elegant rendition of the two horn concertos and Alan Stringer's clarion account of the Trumpet Concerto, the latter three with Neville Marriner leading the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in appropriately agile accompaniments. There are strongly expressive but not especially graceful performances of the three quartets from the Opus 76 set by the Aeolian String Quartet. Decca includes Richard Hickox's dramatic recording of the "Nelson" Mass rather than the classic account by David Willcocks. Two short cantatas, "Arianna a Naxos" and "Berenice, che fai," fill out the final disc in sterling performances by charismatic soprano Arleen Augér, backed by the Handel & Haydn Society Orchestra led by Christopher Hogwood. For listeners for whom a little Haydn goes a long way, this set may prove to be satisfying, but for listeners for whom a little Haydn is too little Haydn, this set will be too little Haydn.

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