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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) Symphonies Nos 93-104 'London' (1791/95) [304.02]
Heidelberger Sinfoniker/Thomas Fey, Benjamin Spillner (101)
rec. 1999/2015 Dossenheim, Mörlenbach, Eppelheim, Wiesloch & Pfaffengrund, Germany HÄNSSLER CLASSIC HC16001 [4 CDs: 304:02]
Begun in 1999 Thomas Fey’s projected cycle of the complete 104 Haydn symphonies with the Heidelberger Sinfoniker on Hänssler came to an abrupt halt with a serious injury to the German conductor. Kerstin Hänssler of the Hänssler Classic label informed me yesterday that Thomas Fey is still not able to conduct and the completion of the complete Haydn cycle under his baton remains uncertain. Hänssler will release its next Haydn symphony next year under direction of concertmaster Benjamin Spillner and the cycle will continue with Heidelberger Sinfoniker. Benjamin Spillner has already directed and recorded some symphonies in the cycle. I notice that volume 23 in the series containing Symphonies Nos. 6, 7, 8 (Fey) and 35, 46, 51 (Spillner) was released in 2017. In 2003 when I first reviewed a release from Fey’s Haydn cycle with Heidelberger Sinfoniker I wrote, “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 Symphonies No’s 94 ‘Surprise’ and 104 ‘London’.” Listening to this set of the 12 ‘London’ symphonies, which have been released previously, and to other symphonies in this series my opinion of the excellence of the Fey cycle still stands.
The ‘London’ Symphonies which are amongst my favourite groups of symphonies from the Classical era are occasionally named the ‘Salomon’ Symphonies after Johann Peter Salomon who was responsible for bringing Haydn to London. Haydn composed the set of 12 during his two remarkably successful visits to London. The Symphonies Nos. 93-98 were composed during Haydn’s first visit in 1791-92 and the Symphonies Nos. 99-104 written in Vienna and London for the composer’s second visit in 1794-95.
Once senses that Fey and his Heidelberger Sinfoniker are in complete control, relishing the experience of skillfully and imaginatively navigating their course through the contrasting character of the movements of the symphonies. With real spirit and innate confidence Fey produces a wide variety of orchestral colour and brings out Haydn’s quirky sense of humour, especially in the opening Allegros, accentuates the rhythmic, dance-like qualities of the elegant Menuets, and the bracing Finales just burst with life. Recorded at 5 separate venues in or close to the orchestra’s home of Heidelberg it’s hard to fault the consistency of sound quality in the 12 symphonies which has agreeable clarity, presence and balance.
I have the set of the complete Haydn symphonies conducted by Adam Fischer and the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra on Brilliant Classics. Recorded at Haydnsaal, Esterházy Palace, Eisenstadt over the period 1987/2001; these are mainly perfectly serviceable performances from Fischer but for my liking there are too many lacklustre performances with occasional untidiness, including the ‘London’ Symphonies, to recommend this set and the projected Thomas Fey/Benjamin Spillner cycle on Hänssler is on course to be a far better prospect.
With historically informed performances of a superior quality from Heidelberger Sinfoniker this set of Haydn’s 12 ‘London’ Symphonies is the finest I’ve heard and is a surefire winner.