Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphonies: No. 82 in C,
No. 88 in G; No 95 in c
Thomas Fey, cond; Heidelberg S
Thomas Fey’s series of Haydn Symphonies has had its ups and downs; the good news is that it continues to improve. The sound of this orchestra is ideal for “The Bear”: big and brassy, with shining trumpets and hard-stick timpani; even the woodwinds are up to Bernstein’s New York Philharmonic in
this music. Thanks to an excellent digital recording, the sound is preferable to that fine Columbia 1962 analog stereo. What we hear is a gigantic period ensemble, although only the brass and timpani are actually historic instruments; it is a compromise that more and more conductors are choosing, finding that it offers the best of both worlds (Charles Mackerras led the way). The great opening Vivace assai roars with life
Bernstein, at similar tempos and equally wide dynamics. Fey is not afraid to take chances: the Allegretto is too fast for comfort (the reason it takes longer than Bernstein’s is that the latter plays only the odd-numbered repeats). Fey’s Menuet is slower than any I have ever heard, and it works; he does not take
repeats. On the other hand, his Vivace finale goes at a virtual
; it’s too fast for me, but not for his stellar players, who never miss a beat. However, the Bear-like drone in cellos and double basses that gives the symphony its nickname is almost lost. In case one can’t keep up with Fey’s tempos the first time, he plays both repeats. This is an exciting performance; yet, despite all the excellences of conception and execution, something is not quite right: Haydn needs greater variety of color and of phrasing, more relaxation, more wit. Bernstein’s “Bear,” with its joyous swagger, remains the nonpareil of Haydn performance.
Fey’s previously excellent woodwinds sound uncomfortable in the extended notes and long phrases of the G-Major Symphony’s Largo. The suave winds of many major symphony orchestras better reproduce the spirit of this movement, and the old-timers had a knack for it: Bernstein, Toscanini, even Szell at a ridiculously fast tempo. Fey’s Menuet is brisk and clean, his Trio deliciously lazy, with a gorgeous bassoon drone; his performances need more such subtleties. The Allegro con spirito finale, which almost all performances rush, starts at a reasonable tempo, sounding all the better for it; but, after a nice long pause at the fermata in measure 194 (3:18 into track 8), Fey joins the rush-hour crowd and makes a chaotic dash through the coda. The track marker that starts the Menuet is placed a second or two late, so if you play just that movement, you begin in its second measure.
In the C-Minor Symphony, Fey gets everything right. His hard-hitting ensemble captures the ferocity of the opening
fanfare and the plaintive answering
phrase perfectly—nothing about the movement is moderate but its tempo marking. The Andante’s constant switching between major and minor is clearly yet subtly presented. Fey’s Menuet is again ferocious, and the solo cello in the Trio is droll and charming. The Vivace fugal finale blasts along at an ideal pace, its flute chirping away over the potent, complex music. I have not heard, nor can I imagine a finer performance of this often undervalued symphony. Have I mentioned that Fey plays only first repeats in these opening movements?
FANFARE: James H. North
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 88 in G major, H 1 no 88 by Franz Joseph Haydn
Written: circa 1787 ; Eszterhazá, Hungary
Length: 20 Minutes 54 Secs.
Symphony no 95 in C minor, H 1 no 95 by Franz Joseph Haydn
Written: 1791; London, England
Length: 20 Minutes 13 Secs.
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