This was the Australian Haydn Ensemble’s (AHE) final concert for the year. The concert focused on the ‘Sturm and Drang’ movement of the 18th century, this concert was a treat in every way. The Sturm and Drang movement was characterised by drama and passion with sudden shifts of dynamics and rhythm. The four works presented in these concerts delivered these in spades.

The program consisted of three works by C.P.E Bach (son of Johann) together with Haydn’ Symphony no 49 (The Passion) to conclude. Guest director was the superbly talented Erin Helyard recent musical director for Pinchgut’s production of Theodora and he certainly raised this talented ensemble to new heights of excellence.

Some highlights for me were firstly was the Flute concerto (Wq 22 in D minor). I had not heard this work before and immediately fell in love with its romantic string passages, and marvellous dramatic third movement. The soloist, Melissa Farrow, playing a natural boxwood flute, delivered what I perceived to be a flawless performance. The conversations between the flute and the strings in the first movement were beautifully handled, the strings never overpowering the voice of the flute. The dramatic opening of the third movement amplified the technical brilliance of the soloist. The boxwood flute does not have the naturally dominant voice of the silver ones we hear today but the clear song and beautiful tones produced, were a testament to her musicianship.

Another highlight for me was the harpsichord concerto (Wq 43/1 in F major) composed in 1772 by C.P.E Bach. From the Allegro of the first movement through the elegant, lyrical second movement to the prestissimo that concluded, Erin Elyard was both virtuosic and completely controlled. What a musician, conducting and playing at the same time! His energy, passion and obvious enjoyment lifted this performance from the excellent to the sublime and he is clearly a master of this ensemble style.

The concert last Monday was packed out, indicating that perhaps this ensemble could fill an even bigger venue. The young performers were obviously enjoying themselves and their enthusiasm and joy in the music was infectious. How wonderful a chamber ensemble can sound in a smaller auditorium – each voice clearly heard and yet filling the room with one ravishing voice as the sun set over glorious Sydney Harbour! I look forward to the 2017 season.

The Australian Haydn Ensemble performed their concert HAYDN’S PASSION at the Utzon Room, Sydney Opera House on Sunday 18th December and Monday 19th December, 2016.

Featured image – AHE Artistic Director and violinist Skye McIntosh. All images by Ben Apfelbaum (c).