Camerata’s beguiling “What’s in a name?” concert of Haydn and Mozart

Camerata, with Diedre Irons (piano)
HAYDN – Symphony No.6 in D Major, Hob. 1:6 “Le Matin”
MOZART – Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat Major, K.271 “Jeunehomme”
Concertmaster: Anne Loeser

Adam Concert Room, NZSM
Victoria University of Wellington

Thursday, 31st August, 2017

Founded in 2015 by the late and lamented Ian Lyons with colleague Liz Pritchett, Camerata is a group of musicians dedicated to the idea of making “high quality, joyful chamber music, accessible to aficionados and newcomers to classical music”. Led by Anne Loeser, a violinist with the NZSO, the group consists of an amalgam of NZSO,Orchestra Wellington and Wellington Chamber Orchestra members, including in this evening’s concert a number of NZSM students and graduates. In accordance with its objective of accessibility, Camerata performs for audiences in return for koha, or voluntary contributions from its listeners.

This was the second occasion on which I’d heard the group perform, the first being in the very different surroundings of St.Peter’s Church on Willis St., whose resplendent qualities included a rather warmer performing acoustic that what we heard this time round in the Adam Concert Room. Each venue brings its own qualities to a performance, of course, and here the instrumental clarity of the different textures and timbres sang out readily during both the symphony and concerto performances. Considering that Camerata has to “realign” its textural and tonal characteristics for each new concert because of the changes in personnel (I compared the two lists of players in each of the concerts I’ve attended, and there were quite a few different names this time round) I felt gratified that the playing seemed to inherit so many of the previous concert’s positive characteristics – no doubt a tribute to both leadership and consistency.

I can’t help but echo my Middle C colleague Lindis Taylor’s amalgam of delight and concern regarding the presence of some early Haydn symphonies in Camerata’s concerts – if only such a group as this would go on and give all of these early works the expert hearing in public performance they’re not likely to get under the auspices of any other local ensemble! To paraphrase a well-known wartime politician’s words, “Never in the field of human creativity was so much attributed to one (Haydn) who had wrought so many (symphonies) but was known by so few” – and so it remains in concert-going circumstances with these Haydn works!

Camerata’s is a start, of course, and despite the non-appearance (as far as I know) of Nos. 2 and 5 of the composer’s symphonic canon in the group’s presentations, this one – No.6 in D Major, Le Matin (The Morning) is significant, in that it’s the earliest of the composer’s symphonies that ordinary concert-goers are likely to know about, almost certainly because of its nickname! – (Quick Question: Name the earliest of the Haydn Symphonies…..Answer: Easy! No.6 in D Major, Le Matin…..I’ve got a recording of it, along with 7 & 8!)…, this is an important factor with these symphonies, as without the suggestive evocative titles these particular ones probably wouldn’t ever be regarded as special: – but ah! – the “Philosopher ” (No.22), “Lamentatione” (No.26), the “Hornsignal” (No.31), “Mercury” (No.43), and “Trauer” (Mourning) No.44 – and these are all before we even reach the famous “Farewell” Symphony (No.45)! What Camerata’s long-term plans regarding these works of Haydn’s are have yet to be revealed, but as Lindis Taylor ruefully remarked, for the group to get through all the symphonies, he would, at the present rate, “need to live till at leat 2050!”

This was the first symphony the twenty-nine year-old Haydn wrote for the Esterhazy court in Eisenstadt, near Vienna, shortly after being appointed the Prince’s Vice-Kapellmeister. It’s not certain from where he derived his inspiration for a triumverate of symphonies on the “morning, noon and night” themes, though his employer, Prince Paul, was known to be fond of programmatic Italian baroque music, and may have requested the scheme of the composer. Whatever the case, the music impresses more by dint of its highlighting the skills of the orchestra’s individual players, rather than the programme element as such. The Prince had recently employed some additional musicians for his orchestra, whom Haydn would have recommended – and so the composer saw to it that their skills were very much to the fore in the new work.

So, a new day dawned, and off we went on our musical journey! Despite the dryness of the acoustic, the playing itself generated plenty of “atmosphere” and stood up well to scrutiny. After the first glimmerings of light turned into fully-formed sunbeams, the flute cheekily began the allegro, filled with gorgeous interchanges between instruments, buoyed along by irrepressible energies. The development modulated the music freely and daringly, and the horn’s cheeky pre-Eroica “early” entry in front of the flute’s “recapitulation” entry broadened the smiles even further!

The slow movement, beginning Adagio, gave us a quietly ascending scale on the strings whose “minor’ inclinations were thwarted by the solo violin’s interruption in the major key! after some soulful duetting between violin and ‘cello, the music began to dance a graceful minuet-like measure, violin and cello exchanging decorative flourishes, both Anne Loeser and cellist Andrew Joyce enjoying themselves hugely! A couple of sforzando chords and the Adagio briefly returned, rich with experience, and more than ready to give way and sink into silence.

The players gave the Minuet a vigorous stride over characterful, held wind notes, straightforward enough until the begining of the Trio, when bassoon and double bass took charge, allowing some comment from a viola to punctuate their quirky exchanges, a kind of get-together of gruff, characterful voices, rather like a favourite uncle’s oft-told “joke” at a family party. By contrast, the flute’s light, airy presence launched the finale with gossamer grace, a gesture immediately imitated by the violin and then thrown into the midst of the orchestra – Haydn has such fun with his different resources, creating such a sense of variety through his use of different textures and timbres, and challenging the skills of the players, none more so than the leader’s, whose playing in this instance was appropriately virtuosic!

After the interval we were treated to a performance of Mozart’s first “big” piano concerto, and an acknowledged masterpiece, the so-called “Jeunehomme” Piano Concerto, No. 9 in E-flat Major K.271 – the work’s nickname, though apparently incorrectly spelt, refers to the young girl who first played this concerto, Victoire Jenamy. Alongside a “named” Haydn symphony, the concerto’s title seemed more than appropriate for this concert.

Diedre Irons, whose Mozart playing I’ve long admired, was the eagerly-awaited soloist for Camerata on this occasion. Possibly, some kind of technical hitch with her “tablet” from which she played the score caused a breakdown just after she’d re-entered the discourse after the opening orchestral tutti. Whatever the case, it was one which she duly sorted, realigned with the orchestra, and began again from just befor her re-entry, with no glitches the second time round.

Once we’d weathered the break in transmission and all been reconnected, we were able to turn our attention to the actual music-making, which had a quality of “presence” I can only put down to the immediacy of the venue and the smaller-than-usual number of instrumentalists. These conditions meant that, whatever even a single player in the ensemble did, the effect was noticeable, giving everything that “happened” a specific and meaningful focus, as opposed to the often generalised feeling which can take away the “edge” from normal-sized orchestral performances. Added to this was the pianist’s life-like inflection of the piano part, enabling the notes to speak with real feeling – listening to her playing put me in mind of encountering a warm-hearted and insightful conversationalist, as responsive to others as she herself was engaging and thoughtful.

The slow movement immediately reminded me for a time of the parallel movement in K.364, the Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola. The musicians evoked a remarkable depth of feeling via their exchanges, the ensemble contributing its darkly-based string-tones and beseeching winds, and the piano its theatrically tragic recitative-like manner. The cadenza-like solo took these feelings to even greater depths, evoking what seemed almost like late-Romantic gesturings in its explorations of sorrow, and drawing a demonstrative reaction from the ensemble in response.

All of which was swept away in the finale’s spring tide of joyous energy which gambolled, chattered and tumbled every which way from the pianist’s fingers through and over the orchestral players, the music irrepressible in its bubbling and chatting character, sweeping all before it – as befits, of course, a release from darkness and strife! Irons showed her mastery of articulation in marrying recitative with the music’s trajectory of abandonment, before plunging into a transitional flourish which led the music to a world of gorgeous incongruity, pizzicato strings and all, in the shape and form of a minuet. Again she impressed with the timing of her articulation in gathering up our sensibilities before we knew what was happening, and giving our exuberances their heads in company with the music, taking us all to the final flourishes of the music’s brilliant conclusion. Bravo!

Very great credit to the Camerata players and those who help keep this particular ship afloat – already a group generating much interest, the ensemble will, I’m sure, grow and prosper artistically. Repertoire-wise there’s plenty of potential, and I’ll be interested to see in what direction the group inclines – doing something a bit different is often scary, but with whole-heartedness and the skills to back the ventures up, Camerata is likely to go places!

P.S. (from September 5th) – a message just to hand from Camerata’s Liz Pritchett has answered my queries regarding earlier Haydn symphonies and the ensemble’s plans for more: – Symphony No.2 appeared in Camerata’s very first concert programme, in April 2015 (unfortunately not reviewed).  Symphony No.5 hasn’t yet been played by the ensemble, but there are plans to do more of the earlier symphonies – hopefully the “missing link” will eventually get its dues, also!  (Many thanks to Liz Pritchett!)

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