Review / Ensemble finishes the year on a high

music / “Haydn’s Farewell”, Australian Haydn Ensemble, Albert Hall, December 13. Reviewed by GRAHAM McDONALD.

Erin Helyard

IT has been interesting to watch and listen to the Australian Haydn Ensemble once or twice a year since they started touring in 2016. They have grown remarkably in confidence and musicianship over that period, and this farewell concert for the 2018 season happily demonstrated the result of what has surely been a lot of hard work from all concerned.

Ensemble artistic director Skye McIntosh shifted sideways for this concert leaving the musical direction to keyboard player and director of Pinchgut Opera, Erin Helyard. He is a great advocate for “historically informed” performance, which includes not only appropriate instruments and playing styles but also the physical layout of the orchestra. All the musicians, including Helyard at the fortepiano in the middle of the ensemble, faced the audience and he conducted from this unexpected position (This apparently was the norm until Wagner in the second half of the 19th century). 

The orchestra for this concert was thirteen string players, two horns, two oboes, bassoon and Helyard at the fortepiano. The program included the Symphony in G minor, Op 6, no 6, by JC Bach, Mozart’s Piano Concerto, No 12 in A major K.414, along with the Rondo for Piano and Orchestra in A major K. 386, which was originally an alternate second movement for the piano concerto.

The concert finished with Haydn’s Symphony, No 45 in F sharp minor, (The Farewell), so named because the score calls for the orchestra to gradually depart the stage during the last movement, leaving only two violins for the final bars. This was done with a theatrical flair, as the musicians donned hats and other holiday accoutrements (including a surfboard and waterskis) thinning out the playing ranks.

This was a very satisfying concert. The musicianship was of the highest standard and the musicians enjoyed themselves. There was lots of eye contact being made with little smiles and nods all through the performance. Helyard’s contribution as conductor and soloist was recognised by the orchestra with the musicians applauding his work in the piano concerto as much as the audience. It bodes well for next year’s program.

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