My musical 'discovery' of 2009
My musical ‘discovery’ of 2009 has been the Heidelberg Symphony Orchestra and its founder-conductor Thomas Fey. They’ve been making quite a few recordings for Hänssler Classic, following two paths, both well-trodden this past year – Haydn and Mendelssohn symphonies, one the great classicist and the other the most classical of the mid-century romantics. (Fey’s recordings are slightly inconsistently represented online – iTunes has considerably more than the three or four on eMusic.)
What fascinates me about Fey’s music-making, over and above the sound he gets from his players, are his two musical mentors: Leonard Bernstein and Nikolaus Harnoncourt. Harnoncourt’s influence is everywhere apparent, but Bernstein’s is perhaps more in the nature of engagement with the audience that Fey’s music-making seems to inspire. This is music-making of vivid immediacy: historically informed in approach with a slightly wiry string-sound (which I really love). Brass and wind have both punch but also a mellowness that works well in both Haydn and Mendelssohn (I’ve not yet explored their recordings of Beethoven and Mozart).
The Haydn work that first opened my ears to the Heidelberg/Fey approach was Symphony No 57, a performance with a thrilling sense of drama and a genuine sense of knowing exactly where it’s headed (annoyingly, it would have to be the one symphony on the album that iTunes has decreed can't be purchsed singly!). True, some may find Fey’s interpretations a little driven, but better that than the aimless run-throughs that all too many of the non-nicknamed symphonies have received down the years. And I love Fey’s gloriously light-footed sense of the dance in the minuets. I do hope they’ll be able to raise the funds for a tour – maybe even to a Prom!
The Mendelssohn discs are cleverly coupled: usually one of the big ‘proper’ symphonies linked with one or more of the string symphonies, those astoundingly accomplished works of Mendelssohn’s very early teens. What a talent! My two favourites so far are the Reformation (which I’m playing next Monday – January 4 – on Radio 3) and the Scottish which comes attached to the String Symphony No 11 that has one of the loveliest scherzos in all of Mendelssohn – a Schweizerlied that gets an immediate encore (or two or three) whenever I play it. And if you needed a single movement to demonstrate Fey’s skill on the dance-floor this is one! And it also shows off to perfection the sizzle of the sound the Heidelbergers make, especially when lifted by a little discreet percussion.
So, first resolution for 2010 is to round up the remainder of Thomas Fey’s Mendelssohn series – somehow Mendelssohn’s music takes on a truly magical sound world given this terrifically vivacious approach.