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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
The Complete Symphonies - MP3 Edition

Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra/Adam Fischer
*Rainer Küchl (violin); Wolfgang Herzer (cello); Gerhard Turetschek (oboe); Michael Werba (bassoon)
rec.1989-2001 (Symphonies), Haydnsaal, Esterházy Palace, Eisenstadt, Austria
full track-list at end of review
NIMBUS NI 1722 [8 CDs: approx. 37hrs]

NOTE: This set cannot be played on a normal CD player. You will need one of the following: a computer - ; a portable MP3 device (like an iPod, but not limited to iPods); a DVD player; the latest generation of in-car disc players.

Experience Classicsonline

The re-released CD edition of this great Nimbus project on Brilliant Classics has been reviewed more than once on these pages. I will go into a few of its admirable qualities later on. The most important immediate fact to deal with is that this is an entirely MP3-file based release. Adrian Farmer, the director of Nimbus Records, says the following: “The Haydn set is something of an experiment, prompted by the anniversary year. Although MP3 has been used primarily for downloading, MP3 files can also be put on CD. Because it is a compressed format you can squeeze much more than 80 minutes playing time onto a CD. The degree of compression can vary from extreme to moderate, which, as you would expect, affects the sound quality of the end result. For this project we chose a compression rate that produces the highest quality allowed within the MP3 rules. To most ears it should be indistinguishable from a normal CD, but the 35 original CDs of the Haydn Symphony project can now be delivered to a consumer on 8 CDs.”

In terms of shelf-space compactness this certainly wins over the 33 disc box in which the Brilliant Classics version of these recordings appeared. Packed in individual jewel cases, the low price of this and other similar sets meant you could build a small house with the things for relatively little outlay. The 8 discs of this new MP3 edition are cased in two double-width conventional jewel cases, so are comparable with the boxes we more normally see these days, where multiple discs are less extravagantly housed in card or paper envelopes. The main consideration for most people will however be playback. While stored on CDs, MP3 encoded music will not play on conventional CD playing equipment. You might however be surprised at how many machines will play MP3 as a matter of course. Virtually all computers will play these kinds of files, and at home I’ve been playing them over headphones and through an ancient but serviceable set of active speakers plugged into the headphone socket output of a laptop computer. Sending this signal through a line link onto a conventional amplifier – I use the analogue input of a DAT recorder – should be no problem, so you can run these onto your expensive hi-fi with a little extra effort. Your DVD player may also take this format in its stride, which means if you are set up for hi-fi film viewing you will probably also be Haydn-ready. I have been enjoying these discs on long drives to obscure gigs on my car CD player, on which these recordings would sound more wonderful had the previous owner of the vehicle not blown one of the built in speakers, no doubt with music other than Haydn. You can of course load these files onto iPod or other portable MP3 players, the only limit being size of the memory chip on your machine. Each disc contains about 500 to 650 mb or the equivalent of about 3.5 conventional CD discs in terms of playing time. Yes, 35 or 33 into 8 is more like 4 CDs per MP3 disc, but don’t forget the low compression rate, and that Nimbus are also throwing in the concertos as well as a 19,000 word article on the Symphonies and a 6,000 word essay on the recording project added as a 'pdf' file that can be read on screen or printed out for perusal at leisure.

But what do I hear you cry? “No, we don’t want compression – yuk!” Almost by chance, but also related to the increasing trend for downloaded purchasing of music, a number of us here at MusicWeb International put ourselves through a ‘compression test’ set by the indefatigable Kirk McElhearn. This didn’t involve deep-sea diving, but did drive some of us almost around the bends trying to figure out which were the most and least compressed of a number of classical music recordings of a wide variety of genres. I know at my age (44) my hearing has not only deteriorated due to the inevitable effects of age, but also from being bashed around in orchestras and the like. Playing flute for 35 years is one thing, but piccolo is the worst, and in a soundproofed room I can hear more hiss in my right ear than the left as a result. Even accepting such shortcomings, it was a big surprise to find how difficult it was to pick out even heavily compressed music files on a blind test. In short, with the high-grade 320kps files on this new MP3 edition of the complete Haydn Symphonies, you needn’t have any real fear of any trade-off in sound quality.

What, you still don’t believe me? Well, I did my own little private test, comparing sound from one of the Brilliant Classics discs and the MP3 file of the same recording. Downloading both onto a mixing programme gives a fair comparison, with the originals saved as lossless tracks on the mixer until saved either as a wav, MP3 or other file sort for CD reproduction. Below you can see my screenshot of an extract from the Symphony No. 100 “Military”, the opening of Finale, Presto. The upper track is the CD, the lower track the MP3 edition.


This in fact only really shows that A. I made the effort and am not telling fibs, and B. that the output signal is at the same level. As far as sound quality goes, all I could do was mute one or other of the versions and listen for differences in a basic A/B comparison. To be entirely honest, I couldn’t really spot any advantages or disadvantages in either in terms of absolute quality, and remembering the blind test, know I would have no more than a 50/50 chance: pot luck, in other words – of picking out one from the other. I’m afraid I didn’t have a copy of the original Nimbus releases for further comparison, but suspect it wouldn’t show anything surprising. At least these attractive yellow boxes revive the classic design of the original releases.

Only your own circumstances will be able to tell you if having these works in MP3 format on CD discs is a practical proposition. True, you can easily turn a normal CD track into an MP3 file, and there would seem to be little clear advantage in going the other way around, although I can see how burning a compilation of favourite symphonies for a conventional player might become part of the exercise. You might be asking yourself why Nimbus doesn’t just offer these recordings as online downloads, but such a huge complete set would take days of irritating and no doubt costly toil to save onto your computer, and I think the neat way in which this whole set has been conceived and presented is something of a stroke of genius. With a budget release of the CDs already easily obtainable there was little point investing in another re-release of this kind, and as previously mentioned this new MP3 edition creates both a desirable package, including a full listings booklet and basic notes and production details, as well as having something of a novelty value no longer to be found with conventional CDs. Like the kind of SACD discs which labels like BIS produce, presenting extended-play stereo signal on a disc only playable on a SACD player, Nimbus has cracked the compactness problem and provided a good deal more versatility at the same time.

As for the actual music, I am largely in agreement with the general critical appraisal of these recordings. Played on modern instruments, the performances have more of an ‘authentic’ feel even than some noted early music specialist conductors, including the more opulent Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra recordings with Nikolaus Harnoncourt on Teldec. I am sure that the Esterházy Palace acoustic has something to do with this. It is only when you put Adam Fischer back to back with someone like Sigiswald Kuijken with La Petite Bande, with their different colours of traverso flutes, classical oboes and clarinets and natural horns that you really hear what such performances can offer by way of an alternative. Adam Fischer makes his argument clear for the choices made in the present recordings, and I am in complete agreement with his opinion that “a concert should be exciting and convincing” rather than boring, no matter how historically correct. Besides this, the Viennese oboes and small tympani used in some of the recordings certainly have plenty of authentic colour and atmosphere. The Pdf text file on disc 8 contains an excellent and detailed survey of the symphonies by David Threasher and Geraint Lewis. Dominic Fyfe was the producer of the last 61 of the symphonies to be recorded, and his essay on the recordings covers the sometimes rocky history which meant the completion of such a huge task was for a time something less than a certainty. The telling note that “Haydn – incomprehensibly – doesn’t sell” stands as testament to the commitment of all concerned in their approach to this project, but it would count for little if the performances were below par. This they most emphatically are not. While there are almost inevitably one or two minor grungy moments of string exposure where intonation and ensemble meets an off-day, these are remarkable few and far between. There are so many excellent performances it is a sticky job picking out highlights. Favourites such as the remarkable opening movement of the Symphony No.39 and many of the other Sturm und Drang works are something for which all concerned clearly have a very close affinity, and the music is attacked with dramatic intensity, imagination and delicacy of touch. The more famous numbers such as the ‘London’ symphonies are never short of being entirely involving, and are often far more. Like Mozart’s early string quartets, the lower numbered symphonies reveal precocity and genuine inventive and expressive strength in surprise after pleasant surprise. The concertos are all played with elegant refinement, and the whole thing ends up with brace of overtures and a march which are all great fun. One can take lucky dips into this set and be held enthralled, literally for days at a time, with only breaks for meals, school runs, sleep and other trivia. There are some differences between the recording phases, with the later releases having a more intimate and detailed sound than some of the earlier ones. These allow the acoustic to affect the overall picture more, losing some of the dynamic punch in the process, but all approaches still having an attractive and spacious quality. I noted one online moan from a commentator remarking about sections played on single strings, but these moments are reserved for the trio sections which go alongside minuets and are legitimate interpretative practice. Either way, I appreciate the moments of contrast these little sections give, which over span of 104 symphonies are often delicious patches of chamber-music arising from within all that orchestral texture.  

I am not in a position to make direct comparisons to some of the other complete sets available, such as that on Decca with Antal Dorati. These I remember sampling many years ago on LP, but was probably too young to appreciate them properly: even as students at the R.A.M. we tended to think of more or less enforced listening to hours of Haydn as the equivalent of watching paint dry. An extra 20+ years of life experience has, thank goodness, granted me a greater sensitivity and perspective on the stunning range of qualities in this music. I have had a listen to some bits of the Naxos set, and on this admittedly somewhat meagre evidence would tend to come down in favour of Fischer. The wonderful thing about being able to rummage through the entire canon of Haydn’s symphonies is that you can discover how much truly marvellous music you’ve been missing by neglecting the less well-known works, and get a real feel for his personality. By the end I felt I’d almost met the man and had interesting discussions on sundry subjects, from the desperate state of society to the latest bawdy salon jokes. All of this can now be yours for the price of about one and a half full price discs, so I say, give it a go!
Dominy Clements         

Full Track-List
Symphony No. 1 in D major, Hob.I:1 (1759) [13:19]
Symphony No. 2 in C major, Hob.I:2 (1764) [9:27]
Symphony No. 3 in G major, Hob.I:3 (1762) [17:32]
Symphony No. 4 in D major, Hob.I:4 (1762) [17:29]
Symphony No. 5 in A major, Hob.I:5 (1762) [18:29]
Symphony No. 6 in D major ‘Le Matin’, Hob.I:6 (1761) [22:36]
Symphony No. 7 in D major ‘Le Midi’, Hob.I:7 (1761) [25:19]
Symphony No. 8 in G major ‘Le Soir’, Hob.I:8 (1761) [21:48]
Symphony No. 9 in C major, Hob.I:9 (1762) [12:12]
Symphony No. 10 in D major, Hob.I:10 (1766) [16:23]
Symphony No. 11 in E flat major, Hob.I:11 (1769) [22:34]
Symphony No. 12 in E major, Hob.I:12 (1763) [18:38]
Symphony No. 13 in D major, Hob.I:13 (1763) [18:06]
Symphony No. 14 in A major, Hob.I:14 (1764) [14:53]
Symphony No. 15 in A major, Hob.I:15 (1764) [19:43]
Symphony No. 16 in B flat major, Hob.I:16 (1766) [12:10]

Symphony No. 17 in D major, Hob.I:17 (1765) [14:44]
Symphony No. 18 in G major, Hob.I:18 (1766) [13:47]
Symphony No. 19 in D major, Hob.I:19 (1766) [10:38]
Symphony No. 20 in C major, Hob.I:20 (1766) [14:27]
Symphony No. 21 in A major, Hob.I:21 (1764) [15:53]
Symphony No. 22 in E flat major ‘The Philosopher’, Hob.I:22 (1764) [16:50]
Symphony No. 23 in G major, Hob.I:23 (1764) [16:34]
Symphony No. 24 in D major, Hob.I:24 (1764) [19:03]
Symphony No. 25 in C major, Hob.I:25 (1766) [13:34]
Symphony No. 26 in D minor ‘Lamentatione’, Hob.I:26 (1770) [13:06]
Symphony No. 27 in G major, Hob.I:27 (1766) [13:40]
Symphony No. 28 in A major, Hob.I:28 (1765) [17:45]
Symphony No. 29 in E major, Hob.I:29 (1765) [17:30]
Symphony No. 30 in C major ‘Alleluja’, Hob.I:30 (1765) [13:21]
Symphony No. 31 in D major ‘Hornsignal’, Hob.I:31 (1765) [25:08]
Symphony No. 32 in C major, Hob.I:32 (1766) [15:05]
Symphony No. 33 in C major, Hob.I:33 (1767) [15:35]
Symphony No. 34 in D major, Hob.I:34 (1767) [17:00]
Symphony No. 35 in B flat major, Hob.I:35 (1767) [15:26]
CD 3
Symphony No. 36 in E flat major, Hob.I:36 (1769) [16:14]
Symphony No. 37 in C major, Hob.I:37 (1758) [13:07]
Symphony No. 38 in C major, Hob.I:38 (1769) [15:55]
Symphony No. 39 in G minor, Hob.I:39 (1770) [16:45]
Symphony No. 40 in F major, Hob.I:40 (1763) [17:17]
Symphony No. 41 in C major, Hob.I:41 (1770) [18:35]
Symphony No. 42 in D major, Hob.I:42 (1771) [26:04]
Symphony No. 43 in E flat major ‘Mercury’, Hob.I:43 (1772) [23:37]
Symphony No. 44 in E minor ‘Trauersymphonie’, Hob.I:44 (1772) [22:56]
Symphony No. 45 in F sharp minor ‘Farewell’, Hob.I:45 (1772) [26:18]
Symphony No. 46 in B major, Hob.I:46 (1772) [16:56]
Symphony No. 47 in G major, Hob.I:47 (1772) [20:17]
Symphony No. 48 in C major ‘Maria Theresia’, Hob.I:48 (1769) [26:43]
Symphony No. 49 in F minor ‘La Passione’, Hob.I:49 (1768) [21:56]
Symphony No. 50 in C major, Hob.I:50 (1773) [17:45]
CD 4
Symphony No. 51 in B flat major, Hob.I:51 (1774) [19:20]
Symphony No. 52 in C minor, Hob.I:52 (1774) [20:51]
Symphony No. 53 in D major ‘L’Impériale’, Hob.I:53 (1778/9)[22:23]
Symphony No. 54 in G major, Hob.I:54 (1774) [24:38]
Symphony No. 55 in E flat major ‘The Schoolmaster’, Hob.I:55 (1774) [20:30]
Symphony No. 56 in C major, Hob.I:56 (1774) [24:37]
Symphony No. 57 in D major, Hob.I:57 (1774) [22:55]
Symphony No. 58 in F major, Hob.I:58 (1775) [16:40]
Symphony No. 59 in A major ‘Fire’, Hob.I:59 (1769) [17:22]
Symphony No. 60 in C major ‘Il distratto’, Hob.I:60 (1774) [24:43]
Symphony No. 61 in D major, Hob.I:61 (1776) [20:33]
Symphony No. 62 in D major, Hob.I:62 (1781) [20:10]
Symphony No. 63 in C major ‘La Roxelane’, Hob.I:63 (1781) [19:42]
Symphony No. 64 in A major ‘Tempora Mutantur’, Hob.I:64 (1778) [18:22]
CD 5
Symphony No. 65 in C major, Hob.I:65 (1778) [17:02]
Symphony No. 66 in B flat major, Hob.I:66 (1779) [21:58]
Symphony No. 67 in F major, Hob.I:67 (1779) [28:06]
Symphony No. 68 in B flat major, Hob.I:68 (1779) [22:46]
Symphony No. 69 in C major ‘Laudon’, Hob.I:69 (1779) [20:23]
Symphony No. 70 in D major, Hob.I:70 (1779) [17:10]
Symphony No. 71 in B flat major, Hob.I:71 (1780) [22:30]
Symphony No. 72 in D major, Hob.I:72 (1781) [18:45]
Symphony No. 73 in D major ‘La Chasse’, Hob.I:73 (1782) [19:31]
Symphony No. 74 in E flat major, Hob.I:74 (1781) [19:14]
Symphony No. 75 in B flat major, Hob.I:75 (1781) [19:32]
Symphony No. 76 in E flat major, Hob.I:76 (1782) [20:42]
Symphony No. 77 in B flat major, Hob.I:77 (1782) [17:58]
Symphony No. 78 in C minor, Hob.I:78 (1782) [19:35]

CD 6
Symphony No. 79 in F major, Hob.I:79 (1784) [20:45]
Symphony No. 80 in D minor, Hob.I:80 (1784) [22:32]
Symphony No. 81 in G major, Hob.I:81 (1784) [22:08]
Symphony No. 82 in C major ‘L'Ours’, Hob.I:82 (1786) [25:23]
Symphony No. 83 in G minor ‘La Poule’, Hob.I:83 (1785) [25:21]
Symphony No. 84 in E flat major, Hob.I:84 (1786) [23:02]
Symphony No. 85 in B flat major ‘La Reine’, Hob.I:85 (1785) [23:52]
Symphony No. 86 in D major, Hob.I:86 (1786) [26:45]
Symphony No. 87 in A major, Hob.I:87 (1785) [22:35]
Symphony No. 88 in G major, Hob.I:88 (1787) [21:45]
Symphony No. 89 in F major, Hob.I:89 (1787) [21:23]
Symphony No. 90 in C major, Hob.I:90 (1788) [26:23]
CD 7
Symphony No. 91 in E flat major, Hob.I:91 (1788) [25:52]
Symphony No. 92 in G major ‘Oxford’, Hob.I:92 (1789) [27:11]
Symphony No. 93 in D major, Hob.I:93 (1791) [24:12]
Symphony No. 94 in G major ‘Surprise’, Hob.I.94 (1791) [23:43]
Symphony No. 95 in C minor, Hob.I:95 (1791) [21:16]
Symphony No. 96 in D major, Hob.I:96 (1791) [23:32]
Symphony No. 97 in C major, Hob.I:97 (1792) [25:57]
Symphony No. 98 in B flat major, Hob.I:98 (1792) [29:40]
Symphony No. 99 in E flat major, Hob.I:99 (1793) [27:32]
Symphony No. 100 in D major ‘Military’, Hob.I:100 (1793/4) [24:19]

CD 8
Symphony No. 101 in D major ‘Clock’, Hob.I:101 (1793/4) [29:34]
Symphony No. 102 in B flat major ‘Miracle’, Hob.I:102 (1794) [26:14]
Symphony No. 103 in E flat major ‘Drumroll’, Hob.I:103 (1795) [30:17]
Symphony No. 104 in D major ‘London’, Hob.I:104 (1795) [29:12]
Symphony 'A' in B flat major, Hob.I:107 (1762) [12:58]
Symphony 'B' in B flat major, Hob.I:108 (1765) [11:37]
Sinfonia Concertante in B-flat major, Hob.I:105 (1792) [21:38]
Violin Concerto in C major, Hob.VIIa:1 (1769)*[20:37]
Violin Concerto in G major, Hob.VIIa:4 (c.1774)*[18:41]
Overture: La Vera Costanza Hob.1a:15 [5:46]
Overture: La fideltà premiata [3:55]
March for the Royal Society of Musicians [4:08]
Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra/Adam Fischer
*Rainer Küchl (violin), Wolfgang Herzer (cello), Gerhard Turetschek (oboe) and Michael Werba (bassoon)
rec.1989-2001 (Symphonies), Haydnsaal, Esterházy Palace, Eisenstadt, Austria
NIMBUS NI 1722 (8 discs – approx.37 hours playing time)







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