Review / Haydn Ensemble gives a ‘heated’ performance

music / Australian Haydn Ensemble. Albert Hall. Wednesday, December 13. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY.

Australian Haydn Ensemble… ‘Despite the hottest day of this season in an un-air-conditioned space, the AHE managed to heat things up even further…’

THIS was the hottest concert of the year in Canberra. The Australian Haydn Ensemble (AHE) opened in a stiflingly hot Albert Hall with a Symphony by Mozart, “No. 29 K201”, played in his favourite key of A major.

Despite the near-capacity audience, and the hottest day of this season in an un-air-conditioned space, the AHE managed to heat things up even further with their scorching opening performance.

Guest directed by Dr Erin Helyard, who not only conducted but also played the harpsichord with one hand then led with the other at times.

While only 18 when Mozart wrote this symphony, it showed the mastery of his compositional style and how he loved the bright and majestic key of A major. The muted second movement had some of Mozart’s long luscious notes on woodwind that rise above the other instruments, which he used to significant effect in many pieces. The final movement, with the dance-like, and the fast and loud expressions ended this symphony in high spirits.

However, the AHE looked very cool and relaxed; they stood and gave a full-volumed and full-on performance of this rousing symphony.

A lot of C.P.E. Bach’s music has not survived history, but what we have, like his “Concerto in C major”, Wq20, shows a dynamic and stormy temperament. This keyboard concerto, played on an Andrew Garlick French double manual Harpsichord by Helyard, which sounded at surprising volume, contains many rapid scalar passages and quirky trills that display the composer’s skills.

This music is full of contrasts, and he explicitly uses this shading to bring about a unique sound of the time. The AHE seemed to handle this, and everything they do with elegance and refinement, regardless of their setting. There were 20 players for this performance.

After the interval, it was more C.P.E. Bach, this time his “Sinfonia in E flat major”. This work flows from movement to movement, and the emotive wrenching throughout goes from a forceful extreme to a heartache filled sonority. In the presto finale, back in the home key, its dramatic and colourful harmony shows why Mozart referred to him as the father of music.

Haydn’s “Symphony No 52”, in C minor, sits in the middle of his symphonic output. Having an orchestra at his disposal gave Haydn the opportunity to experiment and develop his orchestral talents. Also, he chose to express the changing and volatile nature of the world around him of the time in this piece.

Its dark and light characteristics express well the revolutions of the time, and the tension remained throughout the work, even in the slower movement. The AHE clearly know the music of Haydn well, and they showed that in their perfect playing of this piece. Perhaps the performance of this symphony was a precursor to our hot times ahead.

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