Academy of Ancient Music at Milton Court – Richard Egarr plays and conducts Haydn & Dussek

Symphony No.93 in D
Six Canzonets, Op.52 [selections]
Piano Concerto in G-minor, Op.49
Symphony No.94 in G (Surprise)

Daniela Lehner (mezzo-soprano)

Academy of Ancient Music
Richard Egarr (fortepiano)

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: 13 April, 2018
Venue: Milton Court Concert Hall, London

Richard EgarrPhotograph: Marco BorggreveThe Academy of Ancient Music provided a convincingly eighteenth-century sound; the tone of its strings, less suave than those of other ‘period’ orchestras, was admirably positive and the winds, wisely placed in a line on a raised platform across the back of the platform provided the clearest of definition. The slightly rustic timbre was very appropriate and it certainly suited Richard Egarr’s forthright reading of Haydn 93, an unhurried performance, firm in impulse and straightforward in nature. So objective was his approach that Egarr can be forgiven one little whim where, in the Trio of the Minuet, the quiet string responses to the fierce wind and timpani fanfares were momentarily slowed, giving a questioning effect. The Largo cantabile, introduced most graciously by a string quartet, was very expressive and the bassoon joke was not exaggerated – Haydn is humorous enough without being given an extra nudge. (There followed an unidentified Overture. I later learned that cards had been distributed on which the audience was invited to submit comments. One would have thought, in the context of the programme, that Egarr would have chosen something by Dussek (and it might have been him) but it sounded more like Hummel. The simple but forceful main subject certainly caught the attention and a particular oboe-led theme could almost have been written by Arthur Sullivan.)

Accompanied on the fortepiano by Egarr, Daniela Lehner charmed us with a selection from Dussek’s Six Canzonets. The texts are concerned either with shepherds being rejected by recalcitrant shepherdesses or young ladies regretting the lack of amorous opportunities with said shepherds. Lehner gave an ideally elegant representation of Dussek’s gracious vocal lines, breaking delightfully into coquettishness where implied. The occasional high-lying vocal flourishes were gently achieved – thoughtful regret over love’s frustration rather than passionate lamentation.

The opening of Dussek’s G-minor Piano Concerto immediately brought to mind that of Beethoven’s C-minor Third with which it is precisely contemporary. In the same way it also moves from darkness into light and the extensive Allegro knits several themes closely together. Directing from the keyboard, with the leader also placed in clear view of colleagues, Egarr shaped the music firmly, the clear tone of the fortepiano balanced well against the AAM. Dussek gives relatively few isolated passages to the piano which often introduces themes in unison with the orchestra; this results in a taut structure despite the work’s considerable length. The lyrical slow movement has a brightly rhythmic central section – interpreted here in lively fashion – and the multi-themed Finale was also given unity as one melody flowed into another. Minor-key darkness remained until the end however.

Familiar ground returned with Haydn’s ‘Surprise’ Symphony. The score (I suspect it was the reliable Universal Edition) was adhered to – the reading was without haste yet there was invigorating impulse. There were no ‘period’ insertions such as the original high-G trumpet part or high horns in the slow movement or long grace-notes in the Minuet, just today’s enlightened idea of eighteenth-century style. There was one surprising deviation however – the extraordinary decision to leave out the first-movement repeat. This modification had also been imposed in No.93 where it was even more damaging. I don’t recall hearing such omissions being made later than in performances and recordings of the 1950s when it was a fashionable idea. In the context of Egarr’s close adherence to the printed score, I find it very surprising.

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