An intriguing concert
The AHE have garnered a great following judging by the full house at the Utzon Room on Monday night. In a crowded chamber music scene, with lots of groups competing to gain share of wallet/purse of the concert goer in Sydney, this is quite an achievement. The concert was a fascinating one. A rarely heard Quintet by Joseph Haydn’s younger brother Michael, contrasted with two very well known works by Beethoven and Mozart – masterpieces of their genre. The difference of course is that these were chamber arrangements and they were performed on period instruments of the period when these pieces were written – hence the intrigue of the concert.
For someone hearing these pieces for the first time, and probably that included everyone for the Haydn, what the period instruments brought out were the different dynamics of light and shade for the Haydn – and the dance rhythms. Indeed for those like me who have heard the Beethoven and Mozart lots of times it was like the varnish being stripped off a piece of furniture to reveal the true identity of the piece.
Chamber arrangements vs Concert Ones?
A bit like vegemite, you either hate or love such arrangements and indeed that goes for period instruments. There is no right way to perform these pieces, as each brings out different aspect of them. Not surprisingly, the chamber arrangements worked best in the more chamber-like passages of these pieces, but where there was more weight needed you tended to miss the strength of an orchestra or chamber orchestra – especially in the Beethoven. The chamber arrangements scored well with the skipping rhythms of the Haydn which deserves to be played more often. The flute in the Beethoven and the Mozart was surprisingly more effective than in the orchestral versions.
The Utzon Room
What of the performances? The Utzon Room, while chamber like in space has an unforgiving, dry acoustic. It really picks up any blemishes. All three pieces where performed well though there were some intonation problems in the Haydn – especially the first movement and occasionally in the other pieces. These make period instruments sound not particularly well and ‘scrapy’. Everything in period instrument playing has to be absolutely articulated well – they are unforgiving instruments to play and the Utzon Room picks up these blemishes, unfortunately. It also picks up good things like Neal Peres da Costa’s playing of the fortepiano in the Beethoven concerto. The arpeggios came across well on this instrument.
Often the most difficult piece to play in a chamber concert is the first one when a group has not warmed up and maybe the programme should have been reversed with the Symphony at the beginning. Certainly of all the pieces this was the most coherently played. Indeed it is testimony to this chamber music group that the last movement of the Haydn, which as the programme noted ’demands virtuosity from the whole party’ was executed superbly.
Australian Haydn Ensemble | Beethoven’s Piano Concerto | 22 June 2015 | Sydney Opera House, Utzon Room