Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 3,
String Symphony No. 11
Thomas Fey, cond; Heidelberg SO
HÄNSSLER 98.552 (72:45)
This Hänssler Classic album is Vol. 5 of the Thomas Fey/Heidelburg SO traversal of Mendelssohn’s 13 string symphonies and the five symphonies for full orchestra. Symphony No. 2 remains to be included in this series. Each volume contains only one of the symphonies for full orchestra with assorted string symphonies as
fillers except for Vol. 4, which is devoted exclusively to the string symphonies. Listeners may or may not like mixing the two genres on the same discs, feeling that after listening to a full orchestra the string symphonies sound somewhat anemic—although Mendelssohn filled these youthful works with so much variety and imagination they are always interesting.
Fey’s background in early music is evident in this series. His Mendelssohn interpretations have an early-music/period-instrument feel. They are lean, with that slightly astringent string intonation common to antique instruments. The Heidelberg SO arrives at this historical performance style as an expansion of their beginnings as the Schlierbach Chamber Orchestra, founded by Fey in 1987. The result is that the Heidelberg Symphony has a distinctive sound that is noticeably different from the lush, smooth sounds of a large orchestra using modern instruments. Fey’s tempos tend toward the energetic, especially during those sections when tempo markings are
The Symphony No. 3, “Scottish” (this sobriquet is a more-or-less recent replacement for “Scotch Symphony.” Scotch is a beverage!), has lots of recorded competition. If you prefer the more polished sounds of a large orchestra, try the No. 3 as found in the sets conducted by Dohnány (Vienna PO), Abbado (London SO), and Ashkenazy (German SO). Norrington conducts the London Classical Players in period-instrument performances of Symphonies 3 and 4, which are closer in sound and texture to Fey and the Heidelberg SO, but there is an enthusiastic abandon with Fey’s conducting that I don’t hear to the same degree in Norrington’s. A favorite of mine has been a recording of Symphony No. 3 coupled with the
and excerpts from
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
with the London SO conducted by Peter Maag. They were recorded in 1959 and 1960, but have held up well.
There are fewer recordings of the string symphonies, which makes Fey’s traversal of this material all the more valuable. On this disc, only No. 11 is included. It is one of the longer ones, running at 36:44, fairly close to Symphony No. 3 at 36:01. By the time the teenaged Mendelssohn composed No. 11, he had abandoned the three-movement format. No. 11 has five movements, offering a variety of moods and temperaments. My first exposure to these works was the three-volume set on Nimbus with William Boughton conducting the English String Orchestra. The sound they produce is noticeably different from that of Fey and the Heidelberg SO; it is much warmer and elegant. Closer to Fey’s leaner more energetic approach is the period-instrument Concerto Köln recording. Also to be recommended is the complete string symphonies with the Northern Chamber Orchestra under Nicholas Ward on Naxos. Would I recommend Fey’s recordings of the Mendelssohn symphonies? Yes, especially for the string symphonies; but I would suggest sampling one or two of the volumes first to see if his approach to Mendelssohn is for you. I would give his treatment of the symphonies for full orchestra a stronger recommendation as interesting and entertaining additions to recordings by the aforementioned conductors/orchestras.
FANFARE: David L. Kirk
Works on This Recording
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