Camerata – graceful and high-spirited music-making at St.Peter’s Church, Willis St.

Camerata presents:  HAYDN IN THE CHURCH

PIERNÉ – Serenade for Strings Op.7
ELGAR – Serenade for Strings in E Minor  Op.20
HAYDN – Symphony No.3 in G Major Hob.1:3

Anne Loeser (leader)
Sarah Marten, Vivian Stephens, Emily Wilby (Ist violins)
HyeWon Kim, Liz Pritchett, Alix Schultze, Catherine Ireland (2nd violins)
Victoria Jaenecke, Hywel Williams (violas)
Jane Brown, Bethany Angus (‘cellos)
Lesley Hooson (d.bass)
Calvin Scott, Jane Bulpin (oboes)
Peter Lamb (bassoon)
Gregory Hill, Vivien Reid (horns)

St.Peter’s Anglican Church, Willis St.,

Friday, 11th November, 2016

Camerata violinist Liz Pritchett opened proceedings by welcoming us to St.Peter’s Church, introducing the ensemble’s leader Anne Loeser and the rest of the Camerata players, and bidding us enjoy the music we were about to hear.  First up was something of a concert rarity, a Serenade by the French composer Gabriel Pierné, whose music I’d seldom heard, apart from a Piano Concerto which I’d encountered in a “Romantic Piano Concerti” series on the Hyperion CD label. After reading several thumbnail biographies of the composer, I’m left wondering why it is that his music isn’t better-known today, as it seems to have been highly-regarded in his lifetime.

I did think the programme note writer(s)’ description of the Serenade as a “charming piece of fluff” a tad dismissive – the music seemed to be beautifully crafted, the line airborne and light as gossamer, with some lovely interactive passages in thirds, and concluding with a wistful ascending valedictory sigh. In places I was reminded of a similar charmer, English composer Anthony Collins’ Vanity Fair, another piece whose simplicity evokes a world of treasurable lyrical expression. I thought the playing “caught” a good deal of this strain, the melodic line beautifully, but not overly-phrased, nor too heavily perfumed, the touch remaining admirably light to the end.

Having said all of this it was obvious within a few measures of the Elgar work that here was a far deeper and profounder vein of feeling being recreated for us, at once a sense of some private longing being held and nursed and carried with great dignity – those sturdy strides, so characteristic of the composer, grew in confidence and purpose as the lyrical lines of the work ascended and intensified, the solo violin taking the lead in places for the ensembled group to follow, phrase by phrase, layer upon layer, here achieving expressive frisson with great simplicity and lack of sentimentality. If for me the impulsive surges still seemed a shade understated here, it was all still sensitively played and shaped, right to the music’s conclusion.

How beautifully the ensemble “held” the slow movement’s first note, delicately accenting the highest note of the phrase, and making each sequence afterwards like a sigh! The melody was then given simply and unaffectedly, perhaps to a fault – I could imagine a deeper sense of “hurt” in places – but the minor-key sequences were coloured with a properly plaintive elegiac quality, the cellos articulating a lovely answering phrase at one point, and the upper strings holding back their descending tones in preparation for the opening’s reprise. At first judiciously “contained” by the players, the melody was allowed to expand, the players building up the intensities with each ascent, and then going with the music’s “dying fall” – a lovely moment was the upper strings’ rejoiner of the opening theme over throbbing accompaniments, the tones then trailing off into rapt silences.

The finale’s opening, wind-blown phrases were here beautifully brushed in, with the occasional “open-string” sound filling-out the spaces and taking the music well-and-truly outdoors. How the players enjoyed the great ascending phrases of the main theme, the music having come into its own and claimed its territories with wonderful surety. And how magically it all seemed to change mid-course, and hearken back to the first movement with a mixture of regret, resignation and after-glow, the music’s “stride” confidently returning and leading the music home to where the heart is. I thought the striding passages wanted a touch more girth and earthiness here, but the music’s “envoy” aspect was well-served at the end, with the last few chords so resonantly sounded and left to linger in the memory.

After this, we were given notice of the youthful genius of Joseph Haydn, hearing his Symphony No.3, no less, written around 1760-62 during his period of service with the Esterházy family at their various residences in rural Austria and Hungary. This was one of the first four-movement symphonies, and the addition of a dance-movement (Minuet) and something called a “Trio” (named thus because it was a sequence often played by three instruments only), would probably have intrigued those who bothered to actually LISTEN to the music at the time! Interestingly, I found a website which “ranked” all 104 Haydn Symphonies, and which contentiously relegated some reasonably high-numbered ones to the doldrums (No.85 “La Reine” comes in 97th, for example!) – while this evening’s cheery, quirky effort performed creditably in 79th place – all, of course, a matter of opinion, and, as one might imagine, occasioning numerous on-line responses of the “what lame performances were you listening to?” variety…..

Camerata’s playing, I thought, served the music’s cause splendidly – I enjoyed the crackling energy at the work’s beginning, the lines bristling with ideas, horns and oboes adding colour, and bassoon and double bass propelling the argument forward with gusto. The ensemble’s modest numbers kept the music in a kind of “authentic” scale, while the phrasing of the strings and their tonal production enhanced the argument’s clarity though keeping an ambient warmth and flexibility, and avoiding the horrid nasal acerbity of some “period” realisations I’ve encountered. The second movement’s strings-only Andante moderato brought a touch of minor-key melancholy to the proceedings, the composer’s invention beautifully conveying the music’s depth of feeling, realised here with a sure sense of character.

The new-fangled Minuet conveyed both ceremony and sentiment, the horns adding to the splendour, while the Trio sequence featured a playful, tumbling three-way interaction between strings, winds and horns, leading to a reprise of the opening dance, whose poise and elegance contrasted beautifully with the finale’s “running” opening. Though the horns momentarily “blooped” at the beginning (they were to make amends), they contributed in no uncertain terms to the remainder’s energy and bustle. Fugal in character, the music reminded me a good deal of Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony (though as Brahms would have doubtless pointed out, “Any jackass could have seen that!”).

Leader Anne Loeser, after thanking us for coming to the concert at the music’s first-time conclusion, then announced that the ensemble would repeat the finale of the symphony, to make up for the paucity of repeats in the movement. It gave us the opportunity to enjoy all over again the young Haydn’s contrapuntal skills, and allowed the horns to show us what they could really do with their opening phrases, securing their notes this time round with flying colours!

Bravo, Camerata – let us hear a good deal more of you!

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