HAYDN London Symphonies (Fey/Spillner)
Thomas Fey and his Heidelberg band launched their Haydn symphony survey in 1999 with a disc of the Surprise and London Symphonies. These set the template for much of what was to follow: vivacious, minutely considered readings in which every sound, every gesture had been rethought anew. Strings tore into allegros; horns were treated as far more than just sustaining instruments; trumpets spat out minatory fanfares; the timpanist was often encouraged to extemporise beyond his written part. Speeds were often extreme – not least in some almost laughably swift minuets, which contrasted with exaggeratedly slow trios. No fermata was left unelongated, no Haydnesque trick left unitalicised. Over the following 15 years, Fey managed to thrill with his chutzpah at the same time as frustrating with his tendency to micromanage.
Fey was forced to withdraw from conducting a few years ago and his concertmaster, Benjamin Spillner, stepped in for a tribute disc of Symphonies Nos 35, 46 and 51 (8/17). Spillner repeats his role in No 101, recorded here to complete Fey’s traversal of the 12 ‘London’ Symphonies. It’s good to revisit them for their individuality and the single-mindedness with which they have been directed.
As to the new Clock itself, it’s less wilful than some of the others but displays, in the outer movements, the knife-edge string-playing and searing brass tone that has become this series’ trademark. Nothing ecentric about the Andante that gives the work its name, played fairly metronomically at just a touch under crotchet=60. There’s no temptation to correct Haydn’s ‘wrong’ notes in the Trio either.
Five hours spent with these 12 works – the apogee of the 18th-century symphony – is a pleasure from beginning to end. Fey and Spillner will often challenge, occasionally expasperate but certainly never bore you. You may prefer the urbanity of Colin Davis with the Concertgebouw, the earthier sound of Eugen Jochum with the LPO, the revisionism of Roger Norrington in Stuttgart, the period sounds of Marc Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre live in Vienna or even old standards like Beecham. But don’t ignore Fey, whose ‘London’ Symphonies deserve a place among all these classic sets.