Above-Quartet cellist for this concert, James Bush. Featured image- second violinist Simone Slattery.

Lovers of string quartet music and the diverse effervescence of Haydn’s mastery of the genre he helped develop are given a huge treat in Australian Haydn Ensemble’s first  concert of the 2019 season. This programme consists of a quartet of quartets and the concert is totally dedicated to AHE’s target or namesake composer.                        

There is some strikingly superb empathy to witness between all players in this finely balanced chamber music instrument. There is continued charismatic rendering of Haydn’s works here. The quartets were originally written to depict nature or given nicknames when popular with the public and for marketing by publishers.

String players Skye McIntosh (violin), Simone Slattery (violin), James Eccles (viola) and James Bush (cello) work with such successful clarity and extraordinary lightness of blend that Haydn’s motifs associated over centuries with birds or the dawn are unmistakable and easily accessible.

For such an ensemble, it is just a matter of projecting these gestures to the audience for the movements containing popularised references to the world about us to be familiar and speak with Haydn’s  individual turn of musical phrase to be eloquent plus suggest extramusical connections.

‘Bird’, ‘Lark’ or ‘Sunrise’ connections are well described in the programme notes and address to the crowd, and their musical shaping by the group was beautifully crystallised amongst the other movement-characters in each quartet.

Skye McIntosh presides with excellent string presence as the expansive opening of the ‘Sunrise’ quartet envelopes us. Likewise, the chirruping violin in the programme’s opening ‘Bird’ quartet speaks with commanding ease above the neat tapestry of sound in second violin and viola.

This quartet used their exquisite listening across the group and bounced well off each other to gift us some beautiful slow movement moments. A highlight is the poise of the adagio in the ‘Lark’ quartet, once again with McIntosh taking a clear lead.

Similarly, this quartet music deftly changes colour in the hands of these musicians. It maintains momentum to bring home the conversation with the excited ‘hornpipe’ many would be waiting for. The bristling Finale to the ‘Sunrise’ quartet is also an exciting moment of chamber virtuosity with with to end the concert.

‘The Creation’ is such a beloved Oratorio with its text and programmatic music deeply suggesting the magnitude of the first week of the world from the Old Testament bible text. It is no surprise that the work made its way to chamber form. The four excerpts from the arrangement here ordered to resemble another quartet work could not be expected to have the cohesiveness of an original Haydn quartet masterpiece.

Having said that, AHE endeared us to the drama and joy from the choral work, allowing it to be revisited without voices in a more intimate setting. The ‘Chaos’ movement opening the bracket is a focussed and breathtaking event in both the arrangement and the multifaceted realisation of the predicament in searching and strident playing from AHE.

‘Haydn’s Nature’ continues touring until Sat 16 February, with concerts in Berry and Burradoo. The next AHE concert, ‘French Twist’ can be heard from May 30 until June 6.