Two major Beethoven orchestral works were presented in this concert in chamber arrangements for flute, two violins, two violas, cello and double bass, with Neal Peres da Costa as guest soloist on the piano. The Symphony No 2 was a recently rediscovered 19th century arrangement by Girilamo Masi and the Piano Concerto No 4 a modern arrangement by the Australian composer Vi King Lim.
Recorded music, chamber arrangements, piano reductions and four hand arrangements give people access to orchestral works outside the concert hall. With unfamiliar works your ear is not filled with orchestral expectations, and more readily open to the chamber arrangement. Despite Christopher Hogwood’s quote in the program notes “I think, once one’s ear is attuned to the size of the ensemble, you realise that there is no musical matter missing in the argument“.
The music was played on period instruments and specially featured a reconstruction of an 1819 Conrad Graf piano with which Beethoven would have been familiar. This piano has a heavy wooden frame and leather hammers which give the instrument a “punchy” sound. It was interesting to hear it. As a solo instrument in the piano concerto I found the Graf, even with sustained big chords, the sound decays. In the softer passages it is overpowered and doesn’t have dynamic range.
The second movement of this concerto is one of my favourite pieces. The orchestra enters all bombastic and arrogant, and then the piano comes in its polar opposite, gentle and lyrical. It is a sort of musical dialectic where the piano eventually seduces and melts the heart of the orchestra. The seduction of the second movement leads into the joyous union of orchestra and soloist in the last movement. The mostly forte, bright and bubbly tone of this movement came through in the performance.
I have seen many performances of the Australian Haydn Ensemble and some months ago I reviewed their recent album The Haydn Album which was delightful.
The performance of the Second Symphony the ensemble produced a big sound for the space and is better suited to chamber music arrangement. The performance was convincing, dedicated and enthusiastic. The Graf piano was a kind of continuo instrument filling out the orchestral texture, and worked well in the role. The Scherzo was full of fun and the final movement was bursting with energy. The symphony was obviously well rehearsed. It was musically satisfying and a delight to listen to.
I enjoyed reading the program notes which were informative and well researched.