CAMERATA – Haydn in the Church
JS BACH – Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G Major BWV 1049
MOZART – Serenade No. 6 in D Major K.239 “Serenata Notturna”
HAYDN – Symphony No. 13 in D Major Hob.1:13
JS Bach – Kamala Bain, Louise Cox (recorders), Anne Loeser (violin)
Mozart – Anne Loeser, Ursula Evans (violins), Victoria Jaenecke (viola),
Joan Perernau Garriga (bass), Laurence Reese (timpani)
Haydn – Ken Ichinose (‘cello)
Anne Loeser (director)
St. Peter’s-on-Willis, Wellington
Saturday, 1st May, 2021
Camerata’s leader, Anne Loeser was kind enough to alert us to two musical anniversaries on this particular day, opening the concert at St.Peter’s-on-Willis with one, and concluding the evening’s music with another as a delightful “encore surprise”, more of the latter in a moment. It was in fact the 300th anniversary of the presentation by JS Bach of his six Brandenburg Concertos to Christian Ludwig, the Margrave of Brandenburg, though not of their first performance in this form, as Bach had assembled a collection of already-composed works for purposes of the gift. No record exists of their performance for Christian Ludwig, whose ensemble in Berlin seems not to have contained the players needed to perform these highly variegated pieces; and the original manuscripts were rediscovered in the Brandenburg archives only in 1849, and published the following year.
So this music had waited an incredible hundred and twenty-eight years for the re-discovery that led to its publication in its “Brandenburg” form, though it’s hard to imagine Bach himself resisting opportunities to perform these works with his own ensemble at Köthen, which DID have the players to do so – but we don’t know for sure whether this ever happened. The earliest known recordings come from the 1920s from ensembles with “historic” names such as the Royal Albert Hall Orchestra and the Berlin State Opera Orchestra. As Bach had written for almost every instrument in the orchestra known to him in these works, twentieth-century ensembles would at first have had to do a fair amount of “adapting” the music for modern instruments, though more recent advances in historical knowledge of and skills in early music performance practice have resulted in many successful performances and recordings of these works more akin to what Bach himself might have imagined (or heard!).
Concerto No. 4 as performed this evening featured a solo violin and two recorders, along with strings and continuo, Bach’s score specifying a pair of “fiauti d’echo”, a description perhaps reflected in the pair’s playing of their instruments at the very back of the ensemble during the slow movement, as in a kind of “echo chamber”, most effectively conveying the music’s spatial characteristics in the ample St.Peter’s acoustic. I thought at the concerto’s beginning, the fleet-of-finger tempo conveyed a bright-and-breezy spirit, if in places the figurations sounded to my ears a tad breathless, with the recorders’ lines speeding by, and missing something of the charm of interplay. At times it seemed as if the lines were “running together” and thus sacrificing a little definition, even though the ensemble held, with Anne Loeser’s beautifully diaphanous solo violin-playing a tour de force of gossamer dexterity.
At the back of the ensemble for the slow movement Kamala Bain’s and Louise Cox’s playing blossomed, their instruments more clearly-defined and characterful than when in the front, their interplay beautifully filling the ambient spaces, the sounds remarkably “opened out” – and, by some alchemic means, maintained with the third movement’s beginning, even with the wind soloists returning to the front of the platform. I felt the tempi here sprang eagerly and naturally from the music’s character, a kind of out-of-doors ebullience driving it all. Bach delightfully “played” with his listeners by blurring the distinctions between soloists and ensemble, making as if the movement was fugal at the beginning, but then introducing a violin solo (whose helter-skelter character was brilliantly thrown off by Anne Loeser), and going on to mix tutti and solo passages with fugal echoes, the ensemble relishing the accented dance-like hesitations towards the end as a precursor to a kind of “well, that’s it, folks!” concluding gesture.
Next came the adorable “Serenata Notturna” by Mozart, his “Serenade no, 6 in D K.239”. Despite being one of many originally written as background music for social occasions, this particular work merited direct listening attention, with its timpani-augmented introductory march, and quixotic middle section alternating arco and pizzicato figurations. Laurence Reese’s period timpani made a suitably pompous impression throughout the opening March, further enriched by the loveliness and variety of the ensemble’s “inner voices” and the warmth and vigour of Anne Loeser’s violin playing.
The middle movement Minuet began fairly conventionally with an engaging “kick” to its rhythmic gait, but with writing which constantly engaged one’s attention via the occasional unexpected modulatory “swerve” that delighted with its impudence. And the Trio’s garrulous triplet figures here and there over-ran themselves with cascading energies that sparkled and babbled impishly – here, altogether delicious in effect, as played by the quartet within the ensemble (with a double bass instead of a ‘cello), an ear-tickling contrast to the full band!
Straight into the finale we went, introduced by the droll opening violin theme, with its hearty answering phrase from the ensemble, and, to everybody’s delight, developing into an entertainment that the composer himself might well have relished, with the fun by turns hearty (buoyant timpani interjections), quizzical (“After you…” – “No, after you!” kinds of expressions shared in the exchanges between the Quartet’s Ist and 2nd Violins!) and faintly subversive (nonchalant interpolations of ANOTHER Mozartean Serenade, from the timpani and double-bass!). Happily, we all enjoyed the goings-on at least as much as the players did, and the music framing the fun was, as with the rest of the work, not just a pretty serenade, but filled with interest and variety.
For the final work on the programme the platform seemed to be suddenly crowded with extra players, most notably horns, whose contributions certainly added tonal weight and colour to the ensemble. Haydn’s Symphony No, 13 in D was in fact written for his largest orchestral complement to date available, with an extra pair of horns and timpani, even though the latter part in the autograph score seems to have been penned by someone else! The full-blooded D Major chord that began the work reflected this exciting new sonority, the winds and brass holding their lines through the strings’ and timpani’s sprightly opening figures – an extremely ceremonial and festive beginning! – rather like great and sonorous tolling bells sounding while human beings scurried busily about on the ground below!
The adagio cantabile that followed was notable for a solo ‘cello part accompanied by strings without winds, Ken Ichinose’s playing heartfelt and direct, the repeats giving the sequence something of an epic serenity, a mood which the following Minuet set about enlivening! Here, the timpani were a joy, and Karen Batten’s flute-playing eagerly took the chance to shine in the Trio. In my earlier Middle C review of the concert published a day ago I expressed puzzlement at the programme note-writer Gregory Hill’s comment that the finale, like the parallel movement in Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony, quotes a theme based on Thomas Aquinas’s 13th Century Hymn “Pange Lingua Gloriosi”, which was one I thought I knew well, having frequently sung verses from it during my school days. By way of response I opinioned that the Haydn/Mozart “crib” could have been actually taken from the “Kyrie” of the sixteenth-century composer Josquin Des Prez’s Missa Pange Lingua, a work derived from Aquinas’s hymn. However, after a revelatory exchange of messages, I’m find myself both surprised and indebted to Gregory Hill, who precisely pinpointed for me the occurrence of the motif in the original hymn – thus, I stand corrected! Certainly Haydn’s “treatment” of the famous four-note sequence yielded little or nothing to his great contemporary’s better-known exercise, using a similar amalgam of sonata form and fugue to telling effect, ranging from magnificently-sounded horn statements to ubiquitious string and wind exchanges, the whole enhanced by the liberal observance of repeats, and making for a veritable feast of orchestral interaction.
At the symphony’s conclusion, Anne Loeser made her “anniversaries” announcement, the second of which involved one of music’s most notable “one-hit” composers, Engelbert Humperdinck, whose name is forever associated with the opera “Hänsel und Gretel”, first performed in 1893, and whose death occurred one hundred years ago this year. Perhaps too, it was partly the presence of all of those horns for the Haydn Symphony which inspired the choice of music for the encore, the opening “Evening Prayer” sequence from the opera’s Overture, the melody here superbly sounded by the heroic quartet of players in their most meltingly heart-warming mode, with alternatingly sonorous and delicate support from the rest of the ensemble – Haydn would surely have approved!