The Symphony Collection
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Warner Classics/Teldec, 2009
This box set was released to celebrate the eightieth birthday of great conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt. The five CDs contained in The Symphony Collection offer recordings made in the Nineties and in the early 2000s, ranging from Haydn through Mozart, Beethoven and the German romantics, ending with Dvořák and Bruckner.
It is a well-assorted and varied collection, even if it does not contain novelties, since the executions had already been published. To find them gathered here creates nonetheless some interesting combinations or bizarre contrasts: the first cd presents two Haydn symphonies (no. 94, Surprise, and 104, London) and Beethoven’s Symphony no. 1, in which the Bonn composer is still tied to a classic style, so that his symphony is ideally linked to the previous two. Something else happens in the second CD, which features the famous Mozart’s Jupiter and Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5, where the contrast is sharper. The third CD presents to the Schubert’s Symphony no. 8 in B Minor (the so-called Unfinished Symphony), Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s Symphony no. 4 in A Major “Italian” and Schumann’s Symphony no. 4 in D minor: here is the lively Italian symphony that seems to be put on purpose between the desperate and gloomy atmosphere of the Unfinished symphony and the nervous symphony by Schumann. In the fourth CD Brahms’s Symphony no. 3 in F Major, so intimate and delicate, is close to the dynamic Dvořák’s Symphony no. 9 in E minor “From the New World”, while the last offers Bruckner’s Symphony no. 7 in E Major, which ends the collection with a soft and thoughtful final.
Needless to say that Harnoncourt shines: for the new ideas that fill these works, for his intelligence and style and for the careful touches. If in Haydn’s Symphony no. 94 the “surprise” (that is, the sudden fortissimo in the second movement) is really surprising, if in Mozart the orchestra is lively as rarely I have heard, in Mendelssohn you feel a nervous tension, especially in the Saltarello, Presto, supported with force and decision, while Brahms is here to remember vividly how the whole cycle of his symphonies is rightly considered to be Harnoncourt’s masterpiece (and one of the best recordings or even the best recording of this production on the market). At last, Bruckner seventh symphony in the end gives relief, ideally ending the collection.