Haydn Symphonies Volume 4 – No. 39, 34, 40, 50

Hänssler Classic CD 98 407

Franz Josef Haydn Symphonies Volume 4

Symphony No. 39 in G minor, Hob. 1:39 Symphony No. 34 in D minor, Hob. 1:34 Symphony No. 40 in F major, Hob. 1:40 Symphony No. 50 in C major, Hob. 1:50 Heidelberger Sinfoniker Thomas Fey, conductor

by S. James Wegg

But all the world understands my language. – Joseph Haydn to Mozart in 1790

Haydn’s symphonic language, with over one hundred examples filling the CD catalogues and concert halls worldwide, has probably never had a wider audience, but those who truly understand, interpret then share the master’s genius are fast becoming an endangered species. As one of their present day number, Thomas Fey and his talented Heidelberg colleagues have produced a disc that should find a home in any collection. The quartet of symphonies included in this volume provides many moments of great satisfaction even as the performances give testament to the notion that there is still much to learn.

The Allegro assai of the opening G minor symphony is the perfect showcase for the 15 movements that follow. Energy abounds, the wind/string balance is fine and the intrepid harpsichord is spot on with its harmonic underscoring, yet the movement falls just short of heroic excellence. The overall tone is somewhat rough and ready, the passage work more thrown away than tossed off, and the forte chords have a near-brutal, steely edge that detracts from the power of the ideas.

The following Andante , pleasantly light and beautifully recorded, can’t find the humour in the silences, which come across as dead air rather than a moment for thought. A more horizontal approach with upward lifts into the void would be welcome. Devotees of authentic performances will admire the lilt of the Minuet , but the resultant wows of the longer melodic notes give the lines a wheezy effect, which is more than compensated for by the Trio’s marvellous pianos and oboe interventions. Even though the instruments used are faithfully replicated by several modern-day ensembles, the question remains: How did Haydn imagine the music?

The Finale’s crisp cadences and melodramatic sizzle provides an infectious atmosphere of Fun and Drang that close off this work with panache. The other minor-key symphony opens with a deeply felt Adagio that just requires an ounce more of relaxation in the lines and a tad more weight on the dissonances to achieve greatness. But then the ensuing Allegro , with its heady verve and nimble strings, brings a smile to any listener’s face. A little less bass would improve the Minuet , similarly the stellar horns might tone down their off beats in the Trio ; all the more to savour the oboes and the very tasty pizzicati.

Fey drives the Presto assai with a frantic, breathless abandon and brings all concerned to a solid conclusion. Symphony No. 40 is the pride of the disc. Fey’s tempos are ideal: the Allegro particularly in the contrapuntal chaos of the development has a compelling lilt that lifts the music from the page; near-unanimous note lengths keep the quasi music box theme of the Andante moving with charming naiveté; employing the identical pulse for the Minuet and Trio complements the noble horn lines and provides a seamless da capo to the atmosphere of grand repose; not even the return of the wows in the Finale can mar the heady excitement of Haydn’s fugal genius.

The C major symphony’s dramatic Adagio e maestoso evokes a marvellous impression of Beethoven lurking in the shadows but comes dangerously close to more of a triple than duple feel in the dotted rhythms. Perhaps another time Fey will further understand Haydn’s harmonic subtext and let the chord of the augmented sixth resolve rather than just move on. Once safely into the Allegro di molto , the band effuses its customary energy and drive, which culminates in a spectacular restatement of the exposition. Much more, please! The addition of the oboes into the Andante reveals the master of subtle colour at work; the following Minuet a through-composed study of celebration and repose confirms his place as creator extraordinaire. The concluding Presto teeters on the precipice of panicoso and could benefit from the Bernstein laissez-faire approach so that the music is released rather than forced into our consciousness. With such a spectrum of artistic brilliance and emotional understatement, these symphonies will reward repeated hearings for years to come.

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