HAYDN – New Zealand School of Music Students



New Zealand School of Music Students and Staff

JOSEF HAYDN (1732-1809)

String Quartet in C Major Op.33 No.3 “The Bird”

Donald Maurice, Rupa Maitra (violins),Helen Bevin (viola), Brenton Veitch (‘cello)

Concerto in D Major for Piano and Orchestra Hob. XVIII/11

Richard Mapp (piano), New Zealand School of Music Ensemble, Uwe Grodd (conductor)

St.Andrew’s-on-the-Terrace   Wednesday 27th May 2009

Amongst the great composers I couldn’t think of a better lunchtime companion than Josef Haydn, judging from what’s come down to us regarding the man and his personality that’s to be found in his music, with its strength, candid directness and wry humour. I would expect to come away from such an encounter with the great man totally charmed, highly amused and utterly humbled in the presence of such a rare amalgam of sophistication and simplicity. For his part, I would imagine, he would be part flattered, part amused at the attention his death-anniversary was currently getting world-wide, and would also spend a lot of our time together telling me how marvellous he thought the music of his younger colleagues Mozart and Beethoven was, probably explaining that he’s since had ample time on his hands to revise his initial, somewhat bemused impressions of the latter’s work!

Thanks to the efforts of various members of the New Zealand School of Music staff and student groups, and the St Andrew’s concerts organizers, Haydn was indeed the guest of honour at a recent lunchtime concert in the church which celebrated his life and music by featuring two works, a string quartet from the Op.33 set (subtitled The Bird), and a keyboard concerto, written in the cheerful key of D major. Violinist Donald Maurice introduced the concert, and talked a little about Haydn’s work in developing the range, scope and status of the string quartet, eventually establishing the genre as one of the most significant and elevated forms a composer could use to express his deepest and profoundest thoughts.

Haydn’s Op.33 set of six quartets, sometimes known as the “Russian” Quartets (for the simple reason that Haydn dedicated the set to the Grand Duke Paul of Russia) is a group of works much admired by musicians, a favourite being the third of the set, subtitled “The Bird”, so named because of various avian goings-on during the course of the music, most notably during the first movement, where the tiny grace-notes decorating the first violin’s repeated figures sound like birdsong. The music tells its own little story as well, with the birds’ chattering at one point interrupted by a darkening of the textures, causing some anxiety as to the prospect of rain spoiling a good day out – but with the recapitulation all is well. After a rather un-scherzo-like scherzo, enlivened by some violinistic warblings, the slow movement brought out some elegant phrasing and subtle voicings from the group, with the fairy-tale-like narrative taking us in the music’s darker central section to places where no self-respecting bird would dare to go. The finale presented a relatively unclouded aspect with the cellist providing strong rhythmic support for the rest of the group’s chirruping high-jinks. A few very minor intonation lapses had little effect upon one’s overall feeling of intense pleasure in the music and the playing, the characteristic throwaway-ending essayed with po-faced relish by all concerned.

For the second part of the concert the physical scale of things was somewhat enlarged with a keyboard concerto, featuring an ensemble of a dozen or so players directed by Uwe Grodd, and with Richard Mapp as the soloist. The smallish group revelled in the opportunity to explore and contrast the music’s differentiating textures and colours, the whole delivered with plenty of energy and good humour. Richard Mapp’s playing sounded perfectly in scale, his tones crystalline and stylish, the first movement’s cracklingly quick tempo heightening the music’s sense of joie de vivre. His cadenza had more than a suggestion of Beethoven in its exploratory modulations, but nevertheless preserved the style of the whole. A chamber-like air infused the interchanges between soloist and players in the slow movement, the music encouraging a degree of intimate engagement that I found extremely touching. The wind players did well, here, their sustained notes unerringly supporting the textures and preserving the overall ambience. The Rondo finale was marked “all’Ungherese”, and was taken at a great lick, the tuttis giving strings and winds plenty to do as the horns held forth with golden tones in support, as the soloist’s fingers scampered this way and that. The music’s rapid mood-switches were taken in the musicians’ stride, from piano and strings exploring interesting modulations, through a heavier-footed peasant-like “Ungherese” section, into a piquant minor-key mini-adventure, and then back into the sunlight of the opening, all delivered by the musicians with the kind of infectious enjoyment one feels that Haydn had precisely in mind – all, in all, a modest, but fitting tribute to a great composer.

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