Beethoven’s Pastoral/The Australian Haydn Ensemble
City Recital Hall
7 June, 2021
The Australian Haydn Ensemble’s Beethoven’s Pastoral – Masterworks in Chamber Version comprised a trio of works for strings which grew from the idea of the string quartet seeded by ‘Papa’ Josef Haydn, fondly known as the ‘Father of the string quartet.’ Eschewing music by the composer from whom it takes its name, the ensemble presented works by his contemporaries, Boccherini, Mozart and Beethoven, which, during their time, took the 4-instrument format to new horizons.
Boccherini is a lamentably ignored composer, who is often considered a one-hit-wonder for his Minuet from the String Quintet in E, Op. 11, No. 5 (G 275) However, he was a virtuoso cellist and his Cello Concerto in B flat major (G 482) is also highly regarded, along with his guitar quintets, inspired by the music of his adopted country of Spain.
Heavily influenced by Mozart, Boccherini is also known for elevating the status of his own instrument, the cello, in the string ensemble. For this evening, the AHE chose Boccherini’s Sextet in F minor opus 23 no 4, G 457, performed by 2 violins (Skye McIntosh and Matthew Greco), 2 violas (Karina Schmitz and James Eccles), cello (Daniel Yeadon) and double bass (Bonita Williams). It was a delightful aperitif, delivered with the delicacy of Rococo elegance. Instrumental artistry and skilfully integrated ensemble playing was evident, with Artistic Director Skye McIntosh accomplishing exemplary direction from the violin. The third movement, Grave assai was beautifully sonorous, as the first violin soared above the lower strings, followed by a joyful Finale – spirited, ‘but not too fast.’ In the light of such an engaging account, it is hard to understand why Boccherini has been so neglected along with the string sextet format. All credit to the AHE for including both composer and format in their programming.
Mozart’s Haffner Serenade (distinct from the Haffner Symphony) is his Serenade No7, for orchestra in D major, K. 250 (248b), named for the family of Mozart’s friend and contemporary Sigmund Haffner the Younger. The serenade was commissioned for the July 1776 wedding-eve celebrations of his sister Marie Elisabeth Haffner and Franz Xaver Spaeth. The six string players of the AHE were joined by Melissa Farrow playing the transverse flute. The arrangement by Girolamo Masi (1810) was augmented by his own material, now revised by McIntosh, Emma Scolaro and Vi King Lim to better approximate Mozart’s original. The 7 movements have been pared back to 4 in this chamber version, opening with a dramatic first movement Andante- Allegro so transporting that there was spontaneous applause at the end of the first movement, hastily suppressed with realisation that the piece was not yet over. – nonetheless happily received. The third movement Andante, showcases some shining moments for the flute, gracefully executed by Farrow.
The septet regathered for Beethoven’s Symphony no 6 in F major, (Pastoral), arranged for chamber ensemble by William Watts, (1778-1859) violist and secretary of the newly formed Royal Philharmonic Society. Watts was a prolific arranger of Beethoven’s music, publishing septet versions of all the symphonies. It was surely daunting for the musicians of the AHE to take on Beethoven’s nearly hour-long grand symphony, playing virtually one part per instrument. However, they acquitted themselves brilliantly, in this example of program music, colouring an entirely new palette of sound. Moments of sylvan simplicity in the second movement Scene am Bach, ornamented with flute trills and avian echoes from the violin, contrasted dramatically with the jolly merrymaking in the third movement Allegro, the building tension of the approaching storm of the fourth movement and the gracious gratitude of the final movement.
The acoustic of the City Recital Hall was pleasing but perhaps too reverberant for the ensemble of seven with the upper levels unoccupied. However, in these times of shrunken ensembles and audiences, we are fortunate to hear larger scale works live in concert through the presence of these adaptations and ensembles like the AHE which is prepared to champion them. The concert was also streamed live on Melbourne Digital Concert Hall, further broadening access to this repertoire to a potentially global audience.
Playing on authentic and reproduced instruments drawn from Europe, London, Montreal and Philadelphia and dating from 1706 to a 2016 copy of an 1830 item, sans chin rests and bows held high on the stick, the instruments, techniques and musicianship of the AHE are integral to its distinctive sound – a critical element in keeping this historic, genteel and entertaining style alive.
Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney