Thomas Fey

Haydn: Symphonies No. 60 and No. 61; Overture in D

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The 10th volume in German conductor Thomas Fey's historical-instrument cycle of Haydn's complete symphonies, this disc includes a pair of rather oddball items. The Symphony No. 60 in C major, "Il Distratto," started life as a set of incidental pieces for a comic play called Le Distrait (The Absent-Minded Man). The theme lent itself to music that could be presented as a symphony, for Haydn depicted it with strict symphonic forms whose details are just slightly off (wrong notes, misplaced entrances, and phrases that just don't land quite where they're supposed to). There are six movements, with an extra slow movement and an extra Presto inserted in the middle. The Symphony No. 61 in D major has no external program but is a curiously misshapen work, with a large opening Vivace and a really extensive 12-minute Adagio dwarfing a concluding minuet and finale that together aren't as long as either of the first movement. The finale is one of Haydn's flat-out funniest creations. Fey and his Heidelberger Sinfoniker, his handpicked group despite the civic title, keep the natural brasses and winds closely in check, delivering performances that are both intimate and intense, with very slow slow movements, lightly brushed on gut strings, and lickety-split finales. The big Symphony No. 61 Adagio is hushed and deliberate enough to be regarded as extreme in its way, and here the brasses, quiet though they may be, make quite an impact when they do appear. All these traits are typical of Fey's approach, which is atypical but quite absorbing and does for Haydn something of what Rinaldo Alessandrini has done for the Italian Baroque. The program is rounded off by a theatrical Overture in D major, Hob. 1a/7, that is rarely recorded. On the whole a fine example of Fey's art, although not necessarily a disc essential for those buying parts of the series.

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