Brunetti & Haydn [Beethoven Chamber Orchestra]

Symphony No.31 in D minor
Symphony No.33 in C minor (Il maniàtico)
Symphony No.32 in C minor
Symphony No.26 in D minor (Lamentatione)

Beethoven Chamber Orchestra
Santiago Mantas
Patrick Noronha [Haydn]

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 17 November, 2011
Venue: Grosvenor Chapel, South Audley St, London W1

We have a penchant for rediscovering composers who have often languished in well-deserved obscurity. However just occasionally one will be unearthed who deserves such attention. Enter Italian composer Gaetano Brunetti (1744-1798) who spent much of his life in Spain and who may have been involved in losing Boccherini his job as court composer in Asturias. This concert showcased three of Brunetti’s symphonies. Unfortunately there were no programme notes, so little was revealed of the music’s origins.

The tickets for this concert – given in aid of the Lotus Children’s Centre Charitable Trust – were entitled “The Great Classical Symphonists”, which was a trifle far-fetched. On the evidence of these works Brunetti was a fine composer, but no Haydn. All of his symphonies here are in four movements and a minor key, although there appeared to be a lot of shifts between major and minor and in the third movements – dance-like with a hint of Beethoven – Brunetti pioneered the first section being played by winds alone. This was particularly effective in the D minor work, with distinctive hunting horns. ‘Il maniàtico’ was rather disappointing – the title anticipating something more bizarre. Its form is interesting in that a slow movement comes first, and – yes – the concertante cello has an insistent rhythmic figure, slow trills, a reluctance to truly harmonise, and one passage featured some interesting chromaticism: but, 200-plus years on, any shock value had been lost. And in all three works there are passages that come close to note-spinning and none of the melodic material is particularly memorable, but the same can be said about Boccherini and other contemporaries. I would though want to hear more of Brunetti’s music.

In terms of performance, things were not ideal. The Beethoven Chamber Orchestra had less than twenty players and uses modern instruments. In terms of balance the two oboes and single bassoon were often virtually inaudible in tutti passages and on occasion the strings either used far too much vibrato, or one section was using more than another. More importantly the performances were too safe. There was little real attack or bounce to the rhythms (until the finale of the C minor Symphony), the dynamics were too restrained, the phrasing needed more moulding and cellist Rohan da Saram was very self-effacing as ‘the maniac’.

All of this changed in the first of the three movements of the Haydn, which (under Patrick Noronha) was fast and crisply articulated. Regrettably the Adagio needed more shades of pianissimo, a more sculpted melodic line and the woodwinds were again barely audible, and the humour and dance elements of the finale were only hinted at.

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