- Symphony No. 94 in G major ("Surprise"/"The Drumstroke"/"Mit dem Paukenschlag"), H. 1/94
- Symphony No. 96 in D major ("Miracle"), H. 1/96
- Symphony No. 97 in C major, H. 1/97
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Franz Josef Haydn found new freedom in 1790: his longtime patron, Nicolaus Esterházy, had died. At the invitation of concert promoter and amateur violinist Johann Peter Salomon, Haydn left for London, where he was commissioned to write a number of works. Among them were his early London symphonies, six works for which he was paid the sum of £300. They are full of Haydn's optimistic, jovial, and quick-witted musical personality, and the three works featured on this album are no exception. Containing some of Haydn's most recognizable output, this album includes the so-called "Surprise Symphony, No. 94," the "Miracle Symphony, No. 96" (an unfortunate misattribution that has stuck through the years), and the untitled "Symphony No. 97." These works have all been recorded a countless number of times, with performances ranging from authentic instrument renditions to romantic-era heavyweights. This disc, however, is -- refreshingly enough -- neither. Eduard van Beinum, a Dutch conductor who rose up through the orchestral ranks, took helm of the Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam when longtime chief conductor Willem Mengelberg was exiled to Switzerland because of his alleged Nazi sympathies. Van Beinum's style, less prone to showmanship and somewhat more probing by nature, was also markedly more affable than that of his dictatorial predecessor: a feature both of the spirit of the postwar era and the character of the man. While much of van Beinum's recorded legacy has already been released on compact disc (a monstrous set of van Beinum's live radio performances on Decca is testament to that), these Haydn recordings were previously available only on LP. All of them date from the early '50s and are an outstanding sample of van Beinum's work. Innately musical and fresh, van Beinum cheerfully grasps Haydn's personality far better than most of his competition. The Concertgebouw sound is warm and rich, but not overdone. Adding to the overall allure of these performances is the Concertgebouw's woodwind section, which performs with a sweet, radiant, and three-dimensional sound that is a perfect fit for Haydn's personality. Even though these performances were recorded in mono, Decca's remastering sounds cleaner, warmer, and clearer than many present-day issues. Highly recommended.