Boccherini – Flute Quintet in D major (Las Parejas) op 19
Haydn – String Quartet no 62 in C major (The Emperor) op 76
Mozart – String Quartet no 21 in D major (First Prussian) K575
Haydn – Symphony no 100 in G major (The Military) Hob I:100
Skye McIntosh, Matt Greco, James Eccles, Anton Baba, Melissa Farrow
Planning performances in Sydney’s mid-Summer would normally be a safe bet. Who would have guessed this weekend would deliver a cyclone and the wettest day the city has had in 20 years? Despite the challenges of wading their way to the theatre, a stalwart crowd arrived soggy but smiling to enjoy a matinee performance of the Australian Haydn Ensemble’s opening to the 2020 season “Emperors and Armies”. Drenched socks were soon forgotten for the Ensemble provided a fabulous, beautifully crafted program.
With four items on the program, two were performed sitting, the remainder standing when joined by the superb flutist Melissa Farrow courtesy of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. With brief distraction from the wind howling around the outside of the building and the back curtain swaying with the usual theatre draughts, it was as if the old Emperors were whipping the performers up with military precision which proved unnecessary. These musicians are well used to working together with a wonderful chemistry and communication throughout.
The title of the concert was inspired by the European nobility on whom composers and musicians were so dependent during the classical era to commission works and pay salaries. With musicians often living “in house” they would have been aware of the many tasks filling an Emperor’s day not the least of which was far too often military leadership.
Not so serious to start though, the concert opened with the Flute Quintet by Boccherini offering a warm and cosy beginning almost like a welcome bowl of steaming soup. Written while in the service of Don Luis, Infante of Spain, the piece depicts the very popular horse races of the time. Artistic Director Skye McIntosh explained, rather than racing in a line up, the horses were paired with similar capabilities and raced two at a time side by side, thus the name for the piece Las Parejas or The Couples. The three movement piece started relatively quietly and galloped to a finale played with gusto which the audience enjoyed as much as the musicians.
Following was Haydn’s “Emperor” String Quartet, written while visiting London away from his usual address of the Esterhazy Palace in the area of Austria/Hungary. Inspired by hearing “God Save the King” in England, Haydn felt his own country needed a similar ode and incorporated one into this particular work. The tune did indeed become the German national anthem making the string quartet highly popular ever since. This work seemed a little more challenging and some stronger leadership may have propelled it along in a bolder fashion but the musicians drew on their individual strengths to build the momentum.
After interval was a work Mozart wrote for the successor to the throne of Frederick the Great. Unlike his predecessor, Frederick II was not of military might and preferred more leisurely activities. He was a gifted cellist so Mozart, on writing this work for Frederick himself to play, peppered it with cello solos making it quite unique. The quiet beginnings to these movements often made notes sound like they were in harmonics which felt a little out of balance. However, it closed with a more meaty climax beautifully executed by the quartet.
The final work of Haydn’s was originally a Symphony for full orchestra “The Military” for another of his visits to London. Depicting the sounds of war with clashing armies, guns and canon imitation, the horses, the bugles – these were all new to the Symphony audience of the time. Bringing Haydn out to London for these celebrity visits was impresario Johann Peter Salomon who was also a gifted musician and arranger. Of the 12 symphonies Haydn wrote for London, Salomon took great care to arrange the works for smaller ensembles to increase the sheet music sales after the concerts. A clever merchandiser! This Salomon arrangement is what was presented in the concert. A wonderful arrangement sounding much bigger than 5 musicians, the ensemble were confident in the bright Adagio/Allegretto, leaving all to swoon over the divine Allegretto movement and romping to the close with a Presto.
There were many bows to match the warm applause showing this ensemble is considered one of the best in Sydney. Superb musicians on period and reproduction instruments who are definitely worth battling a cyclone to see.
Find out when Australian Haydn Ensemble are performing next on their website: https://www.australianhaydn.com.au/