“Often, as I struggled with obstacles of every kind opposed to my works, an inner voice whispered to me, ‘There are so few happy and contented men—on every hand care[s] and sorrow pursue them—perhaps your work may one day be a source from which men laden with anxieties and burdened with affairs may derive a few moments of rest and refreshment. This, then, was a powerful motive to preserve, this is the reason why I can even now [age 70] look back with profound satisfaction on what I have accomplished in my art through uninterrupted effort and application over a long succession of years.”
—Joseph Haydn in a letter to the Choral Society of Bergen
Twenty-first century artists of all stripes can but envy these words. Who can say categorically that they practise their art “uninterrupted” for years at a time? Multi-tasking isn’t confined to the traditional workplace. Conductors, soloists and orchestral players rely on others—more often MBA managers than royal patrons of the arts such as Prince Esterházy—to ensure that concerts still take place. Yet even noted maestros spend weeks rather than months with their primary orchestra, world-class soloists are encouraged to “blog” to fill seats and hundreds of the planet’s most accomplished musicians spend as much time in the service of the intricacies of Alain Boublil’s Les Misérables as John Adams’ The Dharma at Big Sur. Thank goodness that the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth will unleash another Amadeus frenzy—temporarily putting music from the Classical Period back on the map. Must we wait until 2032 before celebrating the extraordinaire contributions of Papa Haydn?
No worries. Thomas Fey and his intrepid band have already started the party!
This trio of Paris symphonies contain two named (“La Poule,” “La Reine”) works (which have had musicologists and conductors alike scrounging about for “hidden” barnyard and courtyard symbolism), but on this disc it’s the untagged E-flat Major offering that goes to the head of its class.
The thoughtful and expressive “Largo” wonderfully sets the stage for the “Allegro,” which abounds with a sturdy sense of fun—due in no small part to the energy and verve emanating from the stellar second violins. Whether reinforcing their bowed counterparts or left to their own devices, the woodwinds sparkle and soar.
Unlike the too-quick “Romance” of No. 85, Fey finds the ideal tempo for the “Andante,” suiting all of the variations and letting Haydn’s genius with this form speak for itself. The sense of forward motion and dynamic subtlety maintains the tension and rivets attention throughout. The declamations from the horns are consistently fine and the marvellous coda—with winds served up on a discreet bed of pizzicati—brings the movement more to “adieu” than close.
The “Menuet” goes “Snap, Crackle and Bop,” notable for one of the finest silences “heard” in years. (In live performance, we all know the sorts of modern intrusions would ruin those “empty” bars.)
Once the slight bit of mud is scrapped away, the Finale’s zest, passion and drive are readily unlocked and unleashed by Fey and his talented charges.
Nos. 83 (recorded in a different venue: overly reverberant) and 85 can’t find the same level of finesse and brilliance.
Haydn’s Hen has too many ruffled feathers and lacks understanding of the harmonic architecture: too often the cadences sound like commas when exclamation marks are required. Still, the solo cello is a wonderful touch and the Vivaldi-like bows-on-the-bridge in the “Andante” work well.
In “The Queen,” the opening “Vivace” never really settles—there is plenty of excitement, but more out of fear than from heady exhilaration. With the speedy “Romance” a memory, the “Menuet” shows promise and the horns once more prove their worth, but all of that goes for naught as the “Trio” degenerates into pointless affectation. The fine-toned bassoon seems more tipsy than playful before the last hurrah leaves everyone gasping for air. In the “Presto,” competence pervades but the effect is more like a Princess than a Monarch, demonstrating conclusively that not all of Haydn’s secrets reveal themselves easily.
Quibbles aside, this disc can’t fail but to refresh the clock-driven souls that the master’s muse so frequently assuages. JWR