Haydn’s Brave New World [Farewell Symphony]

Symphony No.26 in D minor (Lamentatione)
Le pescatrici – Tra tuoni, lampi e fulmini; Già si vede i vezzi e vanti
Philemon und Baucis – Wenn am weiten Firmamente
L’infedeltà delusa – è la pompa un grand
L’incontro improvviso – Indarno m’affanno … Deh! Se in ciel; Or vicina a te
Symphony No.45 in F sharp minor (Farewell)

Gillian Ramm (soprano)
Joshua Ellicott (tenor)

Orchestra of the Classical Opera Company
Ian Page

Reviewed by: Graham Rogers

Reviewed: 12 March, 2009
Venue: Kings Place Hall One, London

Haydn’s 30-year service at the Esterházy court was one of the most intensely productive periods in the career of any composer. Famously, the fact that Haydn was “cut off from the world” at court led him to explore ever more original musical paths. Most of us know about the countless symphonies but Haydn was also a prolific composer of operas, and these are all but unknown today.

Under the intelligent supervision of its founder Ian Page, the Classical Opera Company’s five-day residency at London’s Kings Place devotes itself to the vast wealth of symphonies and operas from this creative period – each of the four orchestral concerts sandwiching a selection of opera arias between contrasting symphonies from either end of Haydn’s Esterházy tenure. It is good programming, a commendable showcase for important repertoire that deserves to be better known.

This, the second evening in the series, featured two of Haydn’s most innovative Sturm und Drang symphonies and six arias for, alternately, tenor and soprano.

Joshua Ellicott impressed with his confident, easy tone and engaging manner – heroically gallant as the fisherman Burlotto from “Le pescratici” who, having amorously presented the object of his love with a live mullet as a token of his esteem, launches into a display of vocal virtuosity which mirrors the nautical storms through which he vows he will go valiantly fishing for the sake of his love. Gillian Ramm’s bright, clear voice was displayed to fine effect, with good control in Haydn’s often-fiendish coloratura passages; but, standing stock still much of the time, she didn’t match Ellicott’s ability to empathise.

Page conducted an appropriately Esterházy-sized band of mainly young players, all expert exponents of their ‘period’ instruments. Sticking rigidly to what is now known of court practice, harpsichord continuo was only employed in the arias. This left the sound of the symphonies rather threadbare by comparison, lacking the effective gelling agent provided by the keyboard.

The symphony performances, while technically well-played and stylishly articulated in appropriate Classical idiom, were lightweight and disappointingly soulless. Page’s readings rarely penetrated the surface of the music, seeming to concentrate on Haydn’s means of communicating rather than on what he actually had to say. There was little poise (especially in the march-like traversal of the Adagio of No.45); Minuets were timid and lacked dance-like swing.

The gradual walk-out at the end of No.45 was nicely done – the players straight-faced as they left. Returning, Page and the orchestra gave a lively encore in the form of the short and snappy finale from Haydn’s Symphony No.60 (Il distratto).

Despite impressive singing and the discovery of some attractive arias, the evening left a feeling of dissatisfaction, of an opportunity missed. Page seemed unable to come to grips with Haydn’s genius, failing to justify the boldness of the series title, “Haydn’s Brave New World”.

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