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Felix MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY (1809-1847)
The Symphonies - Vol.2
String Symphony No.7 in D minor (1822) [21:15]
String Symphony No.12 in G minor (1823) [20:34]
Symphony No.4 in A major, Op.90 "Italian" (1833) [27:06]
Heidelberger Sinfoniker/Thomas Fey
rec. 16-17 March and 8-12 May 2007, Gesellschaftshaus Heidelberg, Pfaffengrund. DDD
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 98.281 [68:55]
Experience Classicsonline

Thomas Fey is a fabulous exponent of the symphonies of Haydn and Beethoven, as a number of my fellow reviewers have attested (see below). While the Haydn discs – after a brief hiatus – are once again emerging in a steady stream, the Beethoven cycle seems to have been shelved in favour of a new Mendelssohn series, of which this disc is the second.
 
The features that make Fey's Haydn and Beethoven so successful are all here: the clipped, incisive articulation, the fleet tempi, the stylish phrasing, the committed playing of the Heidelberger Sinfoniker and above all the risk-taking from the podium. That risk-taking is a key ingredient in the success of Fey’s Haydn and Beethoven, but his more daring choices sometimes seem to offend Mendelssohn’s more delicate muse. As in their other recordings, the Heidelbergers play within the new tradition of period performance practice, using period brass, hard sticks for the timpani and modern winds and strings.
 
The two string symphonies included here are the remarkably assured works of a child prodigy. Fey points up the contrasts in the first movement of No.7, with passages of limpid phrasing punctuating a punchy, spirited allegro and he and the Heidelbergers romp through the Haydnesque finale. The inner movements also come across well. The andante has an understated beauty and a little mystery in the central episode, and the menuetto is well pointed.
 
The 12th is almost as good, though an odd tempo choice flaws an otherwise fine performance. The grave - allegro opening of the 12th string symphony is modelled on the grand French overture of the Baroque, and while Fey and his band convey the grandiose side of this music, the promised allegro never materialises. The second movement, taken at a relaxed tempo, offers compensation in its disarming sweetness. The Mozartian finale is best of all, the Heidelberger Sinfoniker revelling in the fugal play, Fey directing with thrust but at a sensible tempo.
 
The performance of the Italian Symphony, though tremendously exciting and genuinely explosive in the finale, fails to convince on repeated hearing. The orchestra plays well and the brass are outstanding – the whooping of the natural horns is a joy to hear. The problem is Fey’s direction.
 
The outer movements have great forward momentum and stylish phrasing, but these qualities are undermined by Fey’s policy of pushing the tempo at each fortissimo marking in the score. This habit compromises the unanimity of ensemble at these junctures and, in the first movement in particular, drains away some of the music’s dramatic tension. The second movement andante is fleet. What it gains in flow it loses in tenderness. The third movement comes across fairly well, with carefully graded dynamics. A little more warmth from the strings – who of course eschew vibrato – is all that is missing.
 
The recorded sound is immediate and catches Mendelssohn’s antiphonal violin writing well. Eckhard van den Hoogen’s booklet notes are informative once you get past the oddities of his effusive prose.
 
Fey is a fine conductor and his most recent Haydn discs have been among the best discs issued this year. Would that I could say the same about his Mendelssohn.
 
Tim Perry
 
Other Thomas Fey recordings reviewed on MusicWeb
Mozart Piano Concertos
Beethoven Symphonies Vol.1
Haydn Symphonies Vol.1
Haydn Symphonies Vol.9

 


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