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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


RECORDING OF THE MONTH

 

Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Symphony in D major, No.104 ‘London’ (1795) [28:40]
Symphony in G major, No.94 ‘Surprise’ (1791) [23:54]
Overture: ‘Acide e Galatea’, in D major [06:17]
Heidelberger Sinfoniker/Thomas Fey
Recorded at the Burgerhaus Morlenbach, no dates given. DDD
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC CD 98.340 [58:51]
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Despite being relatively unfamiliar with both the conductor and the orchestra I consider these to be the finest recordings I have ever heard of both the ‘London’ and ‘Surprise’ symphonies.

This is the first release in a projected 30+ CD series of the complete Haydn symphonies from Hänssler Classic. Nikolaus Harnoncourt protégée, Thomas Fey, is in charge. Should subsequent releases from this source come close to this standard then Fey’s place in recording history will be assured. Interestingly the Heidelberger Sinfoniker pragmatically use a blend of period and modern instruments. The brass and timpani are played on authentic instruments. They are joined by modern woodwind and by strings which are played without detectable vibrato.

The magnificent symphony No. 104 ‘London’, from 1795, was Haydn’s final essay in symphonic form and is a musical tour de force at the same time rich in musical inventiveness yet economical in substance. The admirable Thomas Fey is more than up to the task and effortlessly directs his players through the necessary emotional contrasts of nobility and seriousness to mischief and humour.

Maestro Fey gives an exceptional reading with an electrifying and exciting performance from the orchestra. I love the passage in the first movement at 5:11-5:33 (track 1) which displays the lush and smooth string playing so perfectly in tune. Listen to the rich and velvety woodwind passages in the andante at 4:37-5:49 (track 2). The wonderful extended interplay between the strings and woodwind combinations in the third movement at 1:12-3:52 (track 3) is so elegant, perfectly timed and teasingly playful and is for me one of the highlights of the disc.

Haydn’s energetic symphony No. 94, the ‘Surprise’, composed in 1791, is unquestionably one of his finest compositions. The symphony has remained extremely popular in the repertoire for its manifold musical qualities and is particularly memorable for the surprise in the second movement andante which, according to Haydn, would make the ladies scream.

Fey and his Heidelberger Sinfoniker are in complete control, skilfully and imaginatively navigating their course through the subtle light and shade of the symphony. With innate confidence Fey brings out Haydn’s quirky sense of humour, a wide variety of orchestral colour, the dance-like qualities and so much more.

In the first movement hear the marvellous interplay at 7:36-8:25 (track 5) between the various solo instruments and the orchestra. A good example of the rhythmic orchestral playing is heard in the third movement at 3:09-4:24 (track 7) which comes across as a speeded up minuet. At point 2:56-3:51 (track 8) hear the expressive and full-bodied playing with the dance-like skipping melody and the witty ending of the finale.

Haydn’s Overture to the opera ‘Acide e Galatea’ serves as more than a mere fill-up and is wonderfully performed and recorded. This early work from circa. 1762 is a concise and expressive orchestral work and is in fact a mini-symphony in its own right.

I have reviewed a couple of other digital releases of these two Haydn symphonies recently namely from the set of the complete Haydn symphonies with Adam Fischer and the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra on Brilliant Classics 99925 and the live recording under Sir Roger Norrington with the SWR Radio Symphony Orchestra, Stuttgart also on Hänssler Classic (CD93.001). Those versions were disappointing by comparison. I have also gone back to the analogue/digital versions from Sir Colin Davis with the Concertgebouw Orchestra on Philips 442 614-2 and 442 611-2 which have remained evergreen majority recommendations. However I feel that this stellar release surpasses all other versions and is now the benchmark recording of the ‘London’ and the ‘Surprise’ symphonies against which all others will now be judged.

The performances are extremely polished and marvellously expressive, so full of vitality with an electrifying feel at times. The superb German orchestra are clearly making a real name for themselves and play this repertoire so comfortably that it could have been written especially for them. Thomas Fey, who is certainly destined for great future success, brilliantly assists the orchestra to communicate his interpretation with freshness and so assuredly to the listener in a way that could scarcely be bettered. Another bonus is the recording which is rich and warm, yet detailed with superb clarity of sound and perfectly balanced.

Michael Cookson


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FREE SOUND SAMPLES
(minimum 30 secs)

Symphony No. 104:

Adagio - Allegro

Andante

Menuet. Allegro

Finale. Spiritoso

Symphony No. 94:

Adagio - Vivace assai

Andante

Menuet. Allegro molto

Finale. Allegro di molto

Overture: Acide e Galatea

Sinfonia (Overtura):Allegro molto

Andante grazioso

Finale Presto




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