Mozart: Divertimento in F, K.138
W.F. Bach: Suite in G
C.P.E. Bach: Symphony in E minor, Wq 177
Haydn: Cello Concerto, Hob. VIIb:1
NZBarok led by Graham McPhail, with Daniel Yeadon (cello)
St. Andrew’s on The Terrace
5 August 2016, 7.30pm
Formerly known as AKBarok, this Auckland group was making its first visit to Wellington, though it has been in existence for 14 years! It was a welcome visit, with an audience almost filling the downstairs and half-filling the gallery at St. Andrews, this despite the night being wet and perhaps the coldest of the year. It was a pleasure to find the gallery open; it is not always for evening concerts. The sound is good up there – and hot air rises, so this made it a valuable location on such a cold night.
The highlight of the programme was Haydn’s first cello concerto, with Australian-based English cellist Daniel Yeadon as soloist. This was claimed to be the first original instrument performance of the work in New Zealand.
These performers play original instruments of the baroque era, having gut strings and using baroque bows. They stand to play (except of course the cellos, though on Wednesday evening I saw Rolf Gjelsten briefly play his cello standing up!). Both these factors give them a freedom and a different sound from that from modern instruments.
The Mozart Divertimento was lively, though the group took a little time to settle into intonation and ensemble. One doesn’t usually think of Mozart (or Haydn) as baroque composers, though in his introductory remarks David McPhail made links between the two periods, with the Bach brothers rather straddling both.
His brief remarks were informative and useful, since there were no programme notes. Made up of seven violins, two violas, two cellos, double bass and fortepiano, the group has considerable rapport, and plays under the leadership of McPhail, with no conductor. Fortepianist James Tibbles is up with the times, using an iPad or similar instead of sheet music – but I did find the winking light of the control unit under the instrument a little distracting; incongruous when the music was from the eighteenth century and the instruments were authentic ones. Apart from McPahil and Tibbles (and Daniel Yeadon, who played with the ensemble in the first half), all the players were women.
The music was charming and, well, diverting, as are all Mozart’s divertimenti and serenades. We should, of course, have been eating, drinking and conversing during it. Its sudden ending was part of its charm.
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach’s suite began with a smooth larghetto introduction that gave opportunity to hear the gut strings’ tone which is general clearer in articulation as well as being warmer in tone. The fortepiano sound was not much in evidence from where I sat, in the gallery. The allegro contributed plenty of rhythmic vitality and variation. While not comprised of the set of dances that baroque composers used in suites, there were some dances. The term ‘Torneo’ puzzled me, and none of my music dictionaries, nor Wikipedia, obliged with a definition. However, the Italian dictionary did: tournament. I could not detect horses and lances.
The following adagio Aria was lyrical and beautiful. It could also be interpreted as an elegant baroque dance. Menuetto followed; the courtly slow dance it usually is. The final movement, Capriccio, was more unusual and variable melodically and harmonically than the others. Nevertheless, I have to say that this music sounds plain after the Mozart; that work was written in 1772 when the composer was only 16, at which time W.F. Bach would have been 61.
The C.P.E. Bach work, written in 1756 was the only one of his twenty symphonies published in his lifetime. After quite an abrasive opening, it continued to have plenty of dynamic contrasts in the first movement (allegro assai). A smooth, ingratiating andante followed; again it was possible to envisage a stately dance. The allegro last movement was rhythmically alive, with dotted rhythms in a melodic line that darted from top to bottom of the stave.
The highlight of the programme was the Haydn concerto. Yeadon spoke to the audience, explaining some variants in his style from what we come to expect: a narrower vibrato, portamento (slurring), and less than strict rhythm in places. These, he said, were the fashions in the composer’s time.
The concerto was a familiar one. It was composed around 1761-65 for longtime friend Joseph Franz Weigl, then the principal cellist of Prince Nicolaus’s Esterházy Orchestra. Its mellow introduction had less staccato playing from the soloist that we have heard in some performances. Our cellist had a warm, full tone and flawless intonation and bowing. He imbued the work with taste and grace, and brought out the beauties in it, as did the accompanying strings. The short cadenza was stylish and at one with the other music.
The adagio bore a sublime melody; syncopation was part of its charm; no wonder it is a popular concerto. This was playing of a very high order. Here, the fortepiano was more to the fore. The total effect was magical.
The third movement was an exciting allegro, and a pretty quick one at that. At times it was almost a perpetuum mobile. It was a very skilful performance; the brilliant playing in this work was not only from the soloist. It evoked a deservedly enthusiastic response from the largely young, and very attentive, audience. As an encore, Yeadon played the well-known Prelude from J.S. Bach’s first Suite. It was interesting to see that for this, Yeadon extended down the spike of his cello; all the cellists had played in true baroque style without this accoutrement. The work sounded very different on gut strings, and made a gratifying end to a fine concert.