HAYDN Symphonies Nos 6 - 8
Rumours have abounded online that this could be the last disc in Thomas Fey’s Haydn symphony cycle. There are two reasons for this. In a horrific turn of events, Fey himself appears to have been involved in a fall at home and rendered physically unable to conduct; concertmaster Benjamin Spillner stepped in to record the second disc in this set as a tribute to him. Meanwhile, the old, old story of falling revenues that appears to curse Haydn cycles over and over again means that new sponsors must to be found to enable the series to continue. Günter Hänssler assures me, however, that in due course the remaining ‘London’ Symphonies will appear and then a further decision will be taken on the future of this always compelling, often thought-provoking and occasionally frustrating cycle. By my reckoning, 63 symphonies are now on the market, and the ‘London’ Symphonies will take that figure over the two-thirds mark. Haydnistas everywhere will pray to their house gods that Fey recovers and that the cycle comes to fruition in due course.
The ‘Times of Day’ Symphonies, the last to be recorded with Fey on the podium, stand up well against other favourite recordings of these early Esterházy works, played as true chamber music, a harpsichord offering subtle support here and there. Allegros bustle agreeably and minuets are taken slowly enough for all those solos, from flute to bassoon and double bass – and horns to the fore – to display the tonal allure of these champions league players in a more generous than usual acoustic.
The Sturm und Drang symphonies fare just as well. No 35 is a charming work that still displays old-fashioned features such as the ‘dry’ strings-only slow movement; No 46 is the experimental B major work, which here matches the recent recording by Il Giardino Armonico in the aplomb with which all its awkwardnesses are surmounted. No 51 is a showcase for horns playing in both extremes of the instrument’s range (and not shying away from those very extremes). These are wholly impressive recordings on modern instruments displaying period manners and, if the gaps in the cycle are filled in as time goes by, a more than viable alternative to the gradually unfolding period-instrument cycle on Alpha.