Symphony No.60 in C (Il distratto)
Concertino for Horn and Orchestra
Symphony No.2 in C
Symphony No.5 in B flat, D485
Roger Montgomery (horn)
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 1 November, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall
Just past his 77th-birthday, Frans Brüggen – these days taking advantage of a chair to conduct from – and the members of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment made a fruitful alliance in a diverse programme that included a couple of wacky symphonies and a bravura display from Roger Montgomery on his horn.
The Haydn is a six-movement affair based on incidental music and throws the symphony-textbook out of the window. Imperious and solemn out its outset, Haydn will later pull the rug from underneath us, even by his daring standards. The perky aspects of the first movement – during which Brüggen secured some breathtakingly quiet pianissimos – are often to be found in this great composer’s music, but the horns’ capricious interjections in the first slow movement are something else! Here is soul and whimsy intertwined. The ceremonious Minuet and the country-dancing Trio were well captured. Carrying-on beyond the fourth movement, which might well have completed the work in traditional fashion, is a moonlit barcarolle bizarrely interrupted by trumpets and drums and the ‘real’ finale that indulges some re-tuning for the violins. It’s really a suite, and not vintage Haydn, but fun and unpredictable; Brüggen and the OAE enjoyed it and shared their enthusiasm with the audience.
The two pieces by Carl Maria von Weber are equally frolicsome, the Concertino (with at least one tune that stays in the mind) giving Roger Montgomery a chance to show what can be done on a horn without valves, everything achieved by lips, breath-control and a hand up the bell. Weber’s writing (for this very type of instrument) takes no prisoners in music droll and deft, requiring a full sound, harmonics and distant-sounding echoes, and a range from falsetto to bass. Montgomery was simply stunning in this 12-minute scena. Of Weber’s two symphonies, the First is much the best, but the compact Second is worth an outing, especially when played with this sort of belief and character. The opening flourish arrests, contrasts abound, the music often capable of power and grandeur. The final two movements could both be scherzos; the first abrupt, the second making much of pauses – fully evident here – before a witty pay-off. Clearly Weber enjoyed a laugh as much as Haydn did. Best of all was the slow movement; beginning with a call to attention from the horns, the subsequent writing for violas proved sublime.
The concert concluded with a wonderful performance of Schubert’s Fifth Symphony; in context the greatest music and also requiring the smallest orchestra. The first movement was perfectly paced to marry lyricism and strong accents; long lines (strings sweetened by a little vibrato) and a sense of direction in perfect accord. The Andante (loving and flowing) was on wings of song (Lisa Beznosiuk’s recorder-like flute and Anthony Robson’s reedy oboe a constant delight) and the scherzo-masquerading Minuet had the infectious spirit of the dance, the tender Trio guilelessly matched to it. The finale stole the show, Brüggen giving a masterclass in taking it no faster than it needs to go, with many poised and shapely rewards. This was joyous.