Above: Guest conductor and fortepianist Dr Erin Helyard with AHE Artistic Director Skye McIntosh.
In the history of Australian Haydn Ensemble concerts it has always been a special event when we have had the chance to hear the group in its extended orchestral complement. Collaborations with early keyboard and historically informed performance expert Erin Helyard have also been a highlight of any subscription series.
In a special end to the 2018 concert season, the Sydney audience was treated to both of the above. The concert was a strident offering rich in dramatic contrast, humour and dazzling execution. A stunning calibre of performance practice with charismatic eagerness to convey fine emotion, architecture and context of the music quickly and consistently endeared the works and performers to us.
AHE launched into the afternoon with an exciting reading of JC Bach’s Symphony in G minor Op 6 No 6. Following an interesting overview of the programme from Erin Helyard, this was a focussed and bold start to the event.
With Erin Helyard conducting from the keyboard, the Sturm und Drang sentiment was solid and contrasts well harnessed. The full bodied horn declamations were particularly effective throughout and their tone was well blended with the precision and crispness of the parts from strings and other winds.
This was an inspiring reminder of the expressive power and agenda of JC Bach’s music. It was a good choice by Erin Helyard to include in this programme alongside the colourful drama of the works of Mozart and Haydn. We could well benefit from the chance to hear more of JC Bach’s output in concerts in future.
Erin Helyard’s performances on the 2014 replica of a late eighteenth century Anton Walter fortepiano were as always a wonderful showcase for the fluid and unique tone of this instrument. The Piano Concerto No 12 in A major K 414 dates from Mozart’s time in Vienna The joy of Mozart inhis new environment plus the promotion of his pianism and more dramatic compositions such as opera is evident here.
The slow movement of this work is based on an overture by JC Bach, which is a good tie-in for this concert as well as an interesting link historically between the two progressive composers. AHE as led by Helyard as soloist from the keyboard helped us make our own parallels between the two composers’ emotional directness and ease of writing for orchestral forces.
This early concerto shone in the hands of Erin Helyard. Interaction with keyboard and orchestra was keen and intimate fortepiano voice was eloquent and well balanced at all times. Cadenza moments were especially poignant utterances endearing us further to this choice of instrument.
Such historically informed performance success from keyboard and orchestra continued after interval in the Rondo for Piano and Orchestra in A major K 386, her in its joyous restored manuscript version courtesy to the editing and research of Alan Tyson and Charles Mackerras. This true survivor of a single movement work restored from fragments various was performed vibrantly and gave us more seldom heard Mozart in a convincing and colourful expression.
To conclude the concert, the colour, rhythmic variety, skilled orchestration and humour of Franz Joseph Haydn’s much loved ‘Farewell’ Symphony was a timely way to conclude the 2018 AHE’s 2018 series. As well as fine Haydn playing in is atypical but compelling symphonic score from this orchestra’s namesake composer, the legendary conclusion with the parts stopping and leaving the stage was expertly updated here.
To emphasise the idea of impending vacation, as much of the audience would be feeling, a theatrical enactment of trekking, skiing, kayaking, diving partying and other holiday activities other than performing were brilliantly enacted by AHE members. Concept by James Eccles and Glen Hamilton brought this excellent concert and yearly concert season to an even more colourful and dramatic close than fine orchestral stage performance alone.