The question is not "Is Bernard Haitink's cycle of the symphonies of Vaughan Williams the best digital set of the symphonies?" The answer to that question is an emphatic yes. Haitink's technique is beyond reproach and his interpretations are not only overwhelmingly passionate, they are deeply poetic and profoundly musical. The London Philharmonic, which has by now been playing this music for almost a century, clearly loves every note and performs with the fervor of true believers. EMI's sound is as good as digital sounds ever gets: clean, rich, and warm.
No, the question is "Is Bernard Haitink's cycle of the symphonies of Vaughan Williams the best set of the symphonies?" And the answer to that question is a tentative maybe. After all, there are the two cycles by Adrian Boult with the LPO, the EMI cycle, and the Decca, plus Everest cycle. In addition to being one of the greatest of English conductors of the twentieth century, Boult knew Vaughan Williams personally and premiered many of his works, and the sheer authority and conviction of Boult's performances cannot be denied. But Haitink's performances are no less convincing and, because of his "objective" interpretative stance, his performances are in many ways no less authoritative than Boult's. Both Haitink and Boult express the beauty and the terror, the abysmal and the transcendent in the music, but both conductors essentially express the music as music. And because the symphonies of Vaughan Williams are superbly composed music in which greatness glows in every note, both Boult and Haitink's approach reveals the true greatness of the music. The mono Boult cycle is rugged and forceful. The stereo Boult cycle is expansive and lyrical. But the digital Haitink cycle is intense and dramatic and it does have tremendous sound.