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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony No. 70 in D major (1779) [17:54]
Symphony No. 73 in D major, La Chasse (1782) [21:53]
Symphony No. 75 in D major (1781) [21:44]
Heidelberger Sinfoniker/Thomas Fey
rec. Gesellschaftshaus Pfaffengrund, Heidelberg, 13-15 March, 9-11 May 2007. DDD
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 98.517 [61:31]
Experience Classicsonline


Prince Esterhazy clearly approved of novelty and Haydn was quite happy to provide it. This can still be appreciated on this CD, Volume 9 of Thomas Fey’s complete Haydn symphonies cycle for Hänssler.
 
Inventive and boldly experimental, Symphony 70 has a firecracker of an opening and a jamboree of a main theme festively swaggering with trumpets prominent and occasionally the relief of strings proceeding tiptoe fashion.
 
My comparison for this symphony is drawn from the last cycle of Haydn symphonies; the one from the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra/Adam Fischer (Brilliant 99925), in this case recorded in 1997:-

Timings
I
II
III
IV
Total
Fey
4:34
7:56
2:00
3:24
17:54
Fischer
3:34 (4:55)
7:36
2:59
3:01
17:10 (18:31)

Fischer looks faster in the first movement but is slower as he omits the second half repeat, so the bracketed timings provide the exact comparison. Fischer uses a modern orchestra whereas Fey’s is a hybrid: he uses period horns and trumpets and timpani spanned with calfskin. The gain is Fey’s in terms of sheer blaze of these instruments, while his modern strings also have a more smiling, charming tone in their tiptoe passages than Fischer’s. In sum Fey brings more fizz.
 
D major turns to D minor for the slow movement which Haydn terms ‘A type of canon in double counterpoint’ but effect proves more significant than technique. The strings are muted and probing and Fey achieves a beautifully intimate, soft sheen, all gossamery glints and stillness. Slightly slower than Fischer, his exploration is a touch more serious in the passages for strings which begin the sections. It becomes lighter when the wind are added later because his woodwind play throughout with an airy, open tone. The demisemiquaver elaboration of the melody (from tr. 2 3:27) is more smoothly realized than Fischer’s concentration on clarity. Fey’s second section in D major (5:18) is lighter and more welcoming than Fischer, who obtains a more winsome effect by using a solo quartet for the strings-only passages.
 
Fey’s Minuet is brash, more of an Allegro molto than the marked Allegretto, but invigorating, scintillant sunlight with inbuilt echoing passages, his Trio more airy and with a folksy melodic ease. Fischer’s Minuet is closer to Andante, a stately, more traditional affair with a relaxed but less beamingly melodious Trio. The finale begins in D minor with the note D heard five times in quick crotchets with a more leisurely response by the strings before those Ds are hammered out loud by the tutti. Then Haydn serves up ‘Three subjects in double counterpoint’ (tr. 4 0:34) with four Ds to start, a mettlesome triple fugue made really exciting by Fey, particularly the sustained notes of the trumpets and horns, finishing triumphantly in D major, in which key the opening five Ds now return. They seem as though they’ll fade decorously away, like the slow movement but in fact end in loud fanfare. Above all Fey reveals the sheer entertainment of the piece complete with quizzical opening and a fugue flashing fire. To complete the picture he also provides a teasing close: an unmarked slowing down of the five Ds a little from 2:59. Fischer’s fugue is more humane as are his dynamic contrasts. His reaching D major is less of an event, his ending less toying.
 
The whole of Symphony 73 is rather zany and Fey gets this across. I compared the 1992 recording by Fey’s mentor, Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting the fully period instrument Vienna Concentus Musicus (Elatus 2564-60033-2):-

Timings
I
II
III
IV
Total
Fey
8:55
5:26
2:48
4:44
21:53
Harnoncourt
9:16
4:59
(3:16) 4:09
5:11
(22:42) 23:35


While Harnoncourt is regal and elegant by turns in the first movement Adagio introduction, Fey is more expectant, more shaped. Harnoncourt’s main body Allegro has greater edge but the equally mettlesome Fey is more tuneful and assured in the elaborate, fussy but flourishing theme. His tuttis have greater bounce and the horns’ bite is more marked, their sustained notes add excitement to the development; they produce a superb cadential trill in the repeat (tr. 5 7:51).
 
For the slow movement Haydn uses his song Gegenliebe (Mutual Love), by turns charming, ardent, clouded. Harnoncourt begins in a veiled, coy manner, underplaying the dynamic contrasts but incorporating subtle variations of tempo. Fey’s approach is more direct and clearly moulded. He gives increased emphasis to the pauses and at 2 provides a violin solo interpolation, adding intimacy and pathos before a sunnier, then keenly concentrated, almost visionary mood is dispelled by contentment.
 
The Minuet Fey takes Allegretto, as marked, and makes a dance-like Peasants’ Merrymaking. The comedy here comes from the heightened impetus of the displaced first beat as the violins have the second and third beats of the first two bars after a chord from all the other instruments. Fey’s Trio, at the same tempo, pitches a swinging oboe solo over a merrily cavorting bassoon. Harnoncourt brings out the eccentric phrasing but takes the Minuet as if Andante and then speeds up for the Trio. Unlike Fey he makes the Minuet repeats in the da capo so my bracketed timings above make the exact comparison. The hunt finale which gives the symphony its name Fey makes more of an uninhibited romp than Harnoncourt, with a more breathtaking pace, suiting its Presto marking, and sheer joie de vivre. Fey also points up the first phrase of the passages of hunting-calls by flaunting them a little more slowly before picking up the tempo, an unmarked but effective procedure.
 
The slow introduction to Symphony 75 begins with an arresting ff chord on the strings before a soft, warm conciliatory response also by the strings. This happens again, with the response extended the second time. I thought Fey was tempering the chords a little but this is just to make the impact of the tutti ff chord next the more shattering. And this is preparation for the tutti responses to the strings’ energetic opening gambit in the Presto main body of the movement (tr. 9 1:29). The period trumpets here are of an incendiary nature, to invigorating effect. The development (3:17) skilfully plays in turn with the opening phrase of the first theme and the three rising notes that conclude it before a stately strings’ version of the phrase is decked out in regal scoring. Fey shows how Haydn gets the maximum impact from the minimum of material. Here are the comparative timings of Fischer’s 1998 recording:-

Timings
I
II
III
IV
Total
Fey
7:11
7:58
2:45
3:50
21:44
Fischer
5:45 (8:07)
7:26
2:50
3:31
19:32 (21:54)


In the first movement Fischer omits the second half repeat so bracketed timings above provide the exact comparison. His introduction is more dance-like but less measured in the strings’ response, taking 1:08 against Fey’s 1:25. Fischer’s opening tutti is less explosive, his Presto less exhilaratingly helter-skelter.
 
The slow movement is marked Poco Adagio in the Universal urtext but is also headed Andante con variazioni in many sources and on Fey’s CD. He gives it a persuasive warm flow with stylish, discreet added ornamentation in the repeats and equally well-judged slight tempo fluctuations which make the whole experience a continually evolving one. Variation 1 (tr. 10 1:36) elaborates the melody on first violin and in the repeat of the second section a violin solo is sensitively interpolated. Variation 2 (3:22) is livelier, begun by the wind to which the violins’ response is at first jolly, then neat. Variation 3 (4:40) places the theme in a gentle strings’ backcloth with a cello solo in running semiquavers in the foreground. In Variation 4 (6:08) semiquavers in the second violins make a breezily murmuring accompaniment to the theme sustained by the other instruments in a particularly serene, beaming manner. Fischer’s approach to this movement is also flowing yet more ingenuous, with repeats unchanged, a more emotive Variation 3 and calmer, more summative Variation 4.
 
In the Minuet Fey shows more impetus and joy than Fischer’s more portly manner. Fey’s Trio’s duet for flute and violin is a little cheekier than Fischer’s perkiness. If you wondered why there’s a pause in the Minuet’s second section before the main theme returns, in the da capo Fey makes it a slot for a jaunty improvised timpani solo. This is fun which is in keeping with the spirit of the whole movement.
 
The finale is all about expecting the unexpected. A relaxed rondo sets out a confident continuous weave in the violins but the tutti first episode (tr. 12 0:41) is a kind of distorted mirror image with alarming trumpet flashes. The return of the rondo is fleshed out in a more positive tutti but then goes into frenetic mode before stopping in mid-air. The coda is set up as a sotto voce farewell but suddenly there’s a closing blaze of sound. Fey’s contrasts are starker and more dramatic than Fischer’s and he also makes more contrast in tone by using a solo quartet of strings at 1:42 and solo violin at 2:30. This is a symphony that well illustrates Mozart’s comment, “There’s no one who can do it all except Joseph Haydn.”
 
Fey takes risks, provides variety and an element of showmanship, but all intelligently applied, to create the most vibrant Haydn performances I’ve heard for a long time.
 
Michael Greenhalgh
 

 


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