Hartmut Haenchen and the Carl Philipp Emanual Bach Chamber Orchestra worked together during the 1990s and created some wonderful recordings including one of the better Weber Symphony No. 1s I know. They recorded a lot of Haydn during the period that got lost among the plethora of Haydn recording projects intended to include all the Haydn symphonies.
Under the Berlin Classics label, Haenchen and this orchestra cherry picked some of the better-known of Haydn's symphonies and made recordings of varying effectiveness given the competition. Of those I have heard, I think this is among Haenchen and the orchestra's better effort in Haydn even if pacing, which can be slack, is not always equal to the best.
Here are two symphonies from Haydn's storm and stress period -- No. 48 written 1773 (and apparently written earlier by another composer) and named for an Esterhazy visit from the visiting Empress Maria Theresa; No. 53 composed from many fragments the composer used elsewhere around 1777 and subtitled The Imperial for no apprent reason; and No. 85 written for a 1785 Paris concert and called The Queen because the French royalty was in the audience just four years before the epochal French revolution began.
What I like most about this recording is the way Haenchen and his band spread the wealth of beautiful yet powerful interpretations using good sounding modern instruments mated to a wonderful German recording that offers depth of field and precise instrumental spotlighting without using the old tricks of the trade< -- putting microphones next to instruments and remixing afterward of using gain riding that equalizes the volume in tutti. Berlin Classics has given us a great sounding recording and Haenchen has chosen a couple symphonies from the 1770s and one from the 1780s that demonstrate the composer's growth in the period.
It's a pity this fine recording is out of print but our gain that Amazon recycles products like this endlessly at prices anyone can afford. With all the recorded Haydn out there today, I can't give this five stars because it's about impossible to say this is the best version extant of any of these symphonies. All of them are above average and I enjoy this verison of The Queen symphony more than any I've heard from integral sets of the Paris symphonies. The Imperial symphony isn't far behind either.
This recording is ideally suited to someone that is not a Haydn specialist that wants to dabble in his middle period works without buying a whole set of CDs. If that's you, spend the little required to hear some really fine musicmaking in great modern sound.
Larry van den Sande