Camerata continues exploring Haydn with an aside to Mozart: charm and surprises

Camerata chamber orchestra. Leader: Anne Loeser

Haydn: Overture to La Fedelta Premiata
Haydn: Symphony no. 9
Mozart: Divertimento in D, K. 136,
Haydn: Symphony no. 5

St Peter’s church, Willis Street

Thursday 8 August, 6 pm

Looking back on Middle C’s reviews of Camerata, I see they have been a peripatetic ensemble, having been in St Mary of the Angels, the Wesley Church, Taranaki Street and the Adam Concert Room in the university school of music, but most often at St Peter’s.

St Peter’s may not be such a prolific provider of concerts as St Andrew’s, but it always shows its virtues when musicians choose to perform there. Its timber structure offers a slightly more mellow quality to the sound and its greater antiquity along, I suppose, with a richness of religious decoration, imagery and memorials, which has not been subjected to doctrinal austerity; it creates a warm and interesting environment, in a less bright light.

Their main sphere has been the Baroque/Classical era, though there have been departures from Haydn, Mozart and their contemporaries: like Dvořák, Pierné, Elgar and Mendelssohn. This time there was no departure from their dedicated field.

Overture to La Fedelta Premiata
Haydn dominated, with two early symphonies and an opera overture. The overture was for an opera of 1781, twenty years after he began his service at the court of Prince Nicolaus Esterházy. Few of his operas survived a few performances at Esterháza (or Eszterháza, in Hungarian spelling) and opinion of the time and even today has not really left us with a collection of seriously undervalued masterpieces. The overture contains a prominent hunting theme, which gave it a special character leading Haydn to use it as the finale to Symphony No 73, named ‘La Chasse’.

It opens with a jolly, rhythmic hunting tune that taxed the brass players (trumpets and horns), making a fine impact as the concert’s opener.

A Ninth Symphony
It was too early in the history of the symphony for a Symphony No 9 to be a guaranteed masterpiece, and in truth, though I write this with a degree of trepidation, its performance hardly presaged the sort of fame that Haydn achieved through the 1780s. Yet there was plenty of melodic invention, it was animated and well-paced and there were clear signs of the richer musical gifts that emerged more vividly over the years and employing flutes, oboes, horns and a bassoon. The Andante, second movement, using only flutes and strings, was charming and the Finale, in the shape of a minuet, brought horns back, enjoyed a lovely oboe solo over delicate string accompaniment; not flawless but it created a confident, genial spirit. The main handicap here might have been a lack of string numbers that restrained a truly lyrical and shapely performance.

Mozart divertimento/symphony/string quartet
Between the two Haydn symphonies came an early work by Mozart, written ten years after Haydn’s No 9. While Haydn was 29, Mozart was only 16 when he wrote this. It’s for strings only, sometimes called a string quartet, sometimes known as the first of the three ‘Salzburg Symphonies’. It’s much admired, for it’s a fully formed, accomplished and elegant work that has always held its own, and set in this context, it displayed rather more urbane confidence than Haydn did at twice his age. The third and last movement, marked Presto, was evidence of that confidence, taken at maximum speed, even through the accomplished little fugue found in the middle.

The Fifth Symphony
I wondered whether the selection of Haydn’s symphonies 5 and 9, signalling two of the greatest symphonies ever, by another composer, was a deliberate bit of playfulness. Also noted was that these two symphonies straddled the fairly familiar numbers 6, 7 and 8 (Morning, Noon and Night symphonies, but no relation to the Suppé Overture).

The Fifth was the only four-movement work in the programme, though not written according to the later symphonic recipe (fast, slow, minuet, presto-finale); but rather in the ‘church sonata’ form (slow, fast, dance – as usual a minuet – and fast). It was probably written aged 26 (Wikipedia thinks after 1760, aged more like 28), before Haydn was engaged by the Esterhazy family.

As the programme notes point out, the opening movement has real gravitas; I heard, rather than ’gravitas’, an interesting sensitivity which made one realise that Prince Nicolaus did have an acute ear for the work of a slow-maturing genius.

The programme note again, hints that the second movement, Allegro, gives a pre-taste of the spirit of Sturm und Drang (the German pre-Romantic phase, which didn’t really emerge till the 1770s); and the speeds and agility it demanded, and the high horn parts, didn’t sound easy. It was in triple time which rather reduced the contrast normally found between the second movement and the Minuet which was also played at a rather similar pace. But one could sense its underlying delicacy which tended to be forgotten as the typical Minuet movement later became more boisterous, eventually turning into a Scherzo with Beethoven.

The Finale was indeed, Presto, and one had hardly noted the couple of tunes that it uses, and the high horn parts, before it was over. A model overlooked by Bruckner and Mahler.

This admirable project by Anne Loeser and the Camerata orchestra, that is slowly exploring Haydn’s early symphonies, puts me in mind of a wonderful series of concerts, perhaps a couple of decades ago, covering all Mozart’s symphonies in a day-by-day festival, employing all Wellington’s orchestras, even some from amateurs. No one could sensibly suggest such an undertaking for Haydn, but there’s more than enough evidence in these concerts, that such an enterprise, selecting 20 or 30 symphonies might capture attention; and I don’t forget Orchestra Wellington’s series of Haydn’s Paris symphonies in 2014.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *