The English Concert/Harry Bicket – From Morn Til Night

Haydn
Symphony No.6 in D (Le Matin)
Symphony No.7 in C (Le Midi)
Vivaldi
Flute Concerto in G minor, RV443 (Le Notte)
Haydn
Symphony No.8 in G (Le Soir)

Lisa Beznosiuk (flute)

The English Concert
Harry Bicket (harpsichord)


Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 7 February, 2007
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

A musical day in the space of two hours – Haydn’s morning, midday and evening trilogy of symphonies, with Vivaldi’s flute-led night.

In programming the two composers together, Harry Bicket revealed closer links than might have first been expected, while David Vickers’s programme notes speculated on the possible appearance of a nine-year old Haydn in the choir at Vivaldi’s funeral.

Prince Paul Anton Esterházy was well aware of Vivaldi’s prowess, most notably in The Four Seasons, and it seems this may have been a catalyst for his idea that Haydn compose along similar programmatic lines. Certainly the vividly pictorial music works well when performed as part of a concert – from the gradual but glorious evocation of daybreak in ‘Le Matin’ to the vigorous tempest that closes, presto, ‘Le Soir’.

The English Concert adopted a similar strength to their Esterházy counterparts but with a strengthened string section – nine violins to the original six, two violas and cellos to one. They offered a lean sound, the woodwinds standing at the back of the Wigmore Hall’s small platform in order to aid projection, with Bicket carefully judging his contributions from the harpsichord placed at the front.

‘Le Matin’ began sotto voce, its magical beginning on violins almost imperceptible until the sun rose with the brightness of the first tutti. Haydn’s debt to the Italian ‘concerto grosso’ was emphasised not only in the slow movement’s construction but also in the writing for solo instruments, projected easily under Bicket’s direction.

Flautist Lisa Beznosiuk excelled in the rapid, scalic figuration of the finale’s main theme, its figurations developed nicely as they were thrown between parts over crisp punctuation from the strings.

A promising ‘morning’, then, followed by an expansive start to ‘midday’ in the form of the slow introduction’s opening gestures. Once into the softly pulsing Allegro theme Bicket kept the texture relatively light, and was sensitive to the changing moods of the Adagio, with its comparatively bleak recitative.

A pleasing feature of these symphonies is that Haydn thrusts less glamorous instruments into the spotlight, so after bassoonist Alberto Grizzi’s cameo in the trio of ‘Le Matin’ came double bassist Robert Franenberg in the corresponding movement of ‘Le midi’, struggling a little with the tuning but projecting nicely through the texture. First and second violin leaders Rodolfo Richter and Walter Reiter revelled in the closer harmonies of the finale.

‘Le Soir’ proved a most uplifting conclusion, with even Haydn’s stormy presto taking on a congenial air. This was an evening out at the dance rather than one in front of the fire, though the Andante reached expressive depths as Richter and cellist Alison McGillivray achieved an exquisite dialogue, supported by Bicket’s ever-sensitive harpsichord accompaniment. Franenberg again rose to prominence in a darker trio that countered the sunny minuet and here his pulling about with the tempo was suitable and lightly playful. Melodic figures rained down as part of the tempest, expertly controlled to a vigorous conclusion.

Before Haydn’s evening was Vivaldi’s nocturnal flute concerto, responding well to the mellow tone of Lisa Beznosiuk and technical mastery. This concerto takes a few liberties with the conventional three-movement structure, comprising three ‘slow-fast’ movements; Bicket found terrific urgency in the fast music and tense foreboding in the slow.

With Vivaldi’s G minor key turning to Haydn’s major, this completed a well-devised evening, coming full circle to start another day with the finale of ‘Le Midi’ finale as a suitable encore.

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