Camerata’s latest Haydn in the Church concert elegantly “framed” by youthful endeavours

Camerata presents:
Music by Mozart, Haydn and Grieg

MOZART – Sinfonia K.V.35  from the Singspiel Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebotes
HAYDN – Symphony No. 11 in E-flat
GRIEG – From Holberg’s Time – Suite in Olden Style Op.40

Concertmaster and Director: Anne Loeser

St.Peter’s-on-Willis.St, Wellington

Thursday, August 20th, 2020

With a single downbeat at the beginning of this concert from Camerata we were taken, it seemed to me, into a kind of youthful magicland of creative wonderment, via the eleven year-old Mozart’s Sinfonia from a sacred Singspiel Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebotes  (translated as “The Obligation of the First and Foremost Commandment”), a kind of allegorical depiction of the trials of a Christian soul. This was Mozart’s first opera, premiered in Salzburg in 1767, a shared endeavour (a not uncommon occurrence at the time) with two other composers, Michael Haydn and Anton Adelgasser, organist at the Salzburg Cathedral – for whatever reason, only Mozart’s contribution, which was the first of the work’s three parts, has survived.

We heard only the Overture to the work, but it was enough to give notice of the budding genius of its composer, the music having a buoyancy and confidence that I recall marked my first encounter with some of the young Wolfgang’s wonderful early symphonies in those late 1960s’ Argo recordings made by Neville Marriner’s St.Martin’s Academy, recordings which were made in a similar kind of church acoustic. Here, Camerata’s bright and energetic playing instantly brought back to me something of that long-ago thrill of discovery – in fact, the relative unfamiliarity of the first two pieces of the concert had the effect of entering into a “bright new world”, while the better-known Holberg Suite by Grieg which concluded the concert itself still had a freshness of approach here from the players that further added to our sense of rediscovery.

I’ve been delighted with Camerata’s presentations of Haydn’s early symphonies thus far, and was as charmed as before with the ensemble’s “latest”, the Symphony No. 11  (which, incidentally, was given a remarkably high rating (7th out of 104!) in the canon by an on-line commentator who set himself the task of evaluating in order ALL of the Haydn Symphonies!). One could immediately “feel” the music’s distinction – the beautiful opening processional aspect, hinting at a deeply-felt sense of occasion, with the horns’ “held” notes beautifully opening up the vistas created by the strings’ silken lines, prepared the listener for an allegro which had C.P.E-Bach-like touches (the vigorous downward phrase that “answered” the opening, and the tremendous energy that drove the music on), with momentary minor-key sequences breaking into smiles as the sounds rolled forward.

The Minuet had both weight and “snap”, the players bringing out the angularity of the “leaned on” accents, with festive, trumpet-like figurations proclaiming the “country sports” aspect of the music. And I loved the way the winsome, wispy syncopated-note texture shrouded the trio in a bit of “elsewhere business” mystery, with one voice leading the other a merry dance! After this the Finale’s Presto opening theme snorted and snuffled its way through the textures, the hi-jinks punctuated by horn calls and reinforced by chattering winds whose sounds coloured the ample St.Peter’s acoustic in a pleasingly ambient fashion. The sleight-of-hand off-beat figures of the second episode had my ears pricked for a few moments, wanting a place to safely put my two left feet! – but the playing’s control was never in doubt, the music’s recapitulation nicely keeping us guessing as to which way our antennae would point in pursuit, and the sheer elan of it all encouraging us to hang on as best we could, with breathlessly exhilarating results.

Though more familiar territory, Grieg’s Holberg Suite (despite its piano version origins one immediately senses how the music “blooms” in its string orchestra version!) came up here right from its opening “as fresh as paint” (that phrase has unaccountably “stuck” with me from somewhere!) with playing that never looked back from the ensemble’s lively accenting of the very first note, the ascending phrases almost trenchant in their “digging into” the music, and contrasting beautifully with the light-as-air, flowing replies. The brisk tempo brought some smartish scampering from the inner voices, and some exciting descending spirallings which reprised the (now augmented) opening theme – and how the players relished the grandeur of the final statements!

How beautifully sounded was the opening of the Sarabande, hymn-like in effect, but enlivened by the energised echo-phrase at the end of each sentence – there’s some lovely work by the ‘cellos, with their individual lines drawing us into the detailings of the texture, and then followed by a wondrously-glowing reiteration of the opening theme from the ensemble, the music singing like crazy! The next movement , the Gavotte/Musette, featured violins and violas introducing the folkish opening strains, answered by the full orchestra, with lovely antiphonal statements adding to the music’s out-of-doors ambiences – the Musette, taken a bit faster, brought out the drone bass and folk-fiddle sound more pictorially, over which the melody was allowed to blossom with each succeeding phrase.

What really caught me up in the music’s flow was the Air, here launched with great concentrated purpose, and built with finely wrought tensions from the upper strings to a full-throated climax, the combination of a sombre bass and  anguished upper string lines making for a moving effect. The major key sequence featured some heart-warming exchanges between solo cello and the violins, before the other cellos joined in, taking the lead, and drawing with them the upper strings towards a reiteration of the earlier outpourings of feeling, before everything rapidly and circumspectly fell away to silence. Out of the somewhat “spent” ambience then began the Rigaudon, the solo violin cheekily enjoining its companions to “cheer up” and join the “life-dance” , underlining its enjoiner with a saucy ascent to its final throwaway note – lovely, delicate solo  playing by Anne Loeser! The ensemble then acquiesced with a flourish – and, a brief introspective sequence later, the invitation and its response was repeated – the day had been won!

Most unexpectedly and  charmingly, we were given a brief encore – a piece of Sibelius’s music I didn’t know existed, one called Vesipisaroita (Water droplets), supposedly his  first composition, written at the age of nine, for violin and ‘cello – a far cry from the masterpieces that had brought the composer world-wide fame (and including several beautiful, if lesser-known works for string orchestra), but certainly ending the concert as it had begun, with youthful endeavours, and in the process underlining a kind of “return to simplicity” which we could take unto ourselves into the night comfortably and reassuringly…….




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