Piano Sonatas by Haydn, Mozart & Beethoven
Walewein Witten (fortepiano)
Resonus RES10242. 71’29
Beethoven: Sonata in D minor, Op. 31/2 ‘The Tempest’
Sonata in E-flat major, Hob. XVI:52
Mozart: Sonata in F major, KV 533/494
The question of what Beethoven, or Bach, would have done if they were composing for modern instruments, rather than those of their time, is often asked. The question is, of course, impossible to answer but I would hazard a guess that their music would be totally different to what it actually is. So, in a way, they would no longer be Beethoven or Bach, but a different composer, writing in a different age and for different listeners. So the first, and possibly the most important, thing about this recording is that it is performed on a fortepiano. Continue reading
Haydn: ‘London’ Symphony 99 & Harmoniemesse
Handel and Haydn Society, Harry Christophers
Coro 6176. 68’24
Haydn’s Symphony No. 99 in E♭ major is one of his twelve ‘London’ symphonies. Although it was composed in Vienna in 1793, its first performance was in London in 1794 at the Hanover Square Rooms during Haydn’s second London visit. It is his first use of clarinets in a symphony. The woodwind plays a key role, as they do in the Harmoniemesse, the Mass in B-flat major. That name, given after Haydn’s death, refers not to any idea of harmony, but to the use of the Harmonie, the German name for a wind band. With similar instrumentation, these two pieces make for an obvious pairing on the recording from the Boston based Handel and Haydn Society. Continue reading
The Early Horn
Ursula Paludan Monberg
Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Hyperion CDA68289. 78’32
One of the most astonishing developments in musical instrument technology came with the elevation of the horn from its role a rather elemental rallying call to 17th-century aristocratic huntsmen to a sophisticated member of 18th-century court orchestras and chamber groups. One of the key aspects of this development was the technique of hand-stopping to alter the pitch. This was combined with the division of the 15 or so feet of tubing of the wound hunting horn into two parts, the smaller changeable crock allowing for changes of key. This recording explores the wide range of music composed for the natural horn during the 18th-century. Continue reading
Haydn: La Fedeltà Premiata
Guildhall School of Music &Drama
Silk Street Theatre, 4 November2019
Haydn’s La Fedeltà Premiata (Fidelity Rewarded) was premiered in 1781 at the reopening of the Esterháza court theatre after its destruction in a fire. His Lo speziale had been the first opera in the previous theatre in 1768. The plot is bizarre, even by the standards of 18th-century opera. The Roman city of Cumae worships the goddess Diana, but have managed to upset her, resulting in the curse that “Every year two faithful lovers will be sacrificed to the sea monster until a heroic soul offers his own life. Only then will peace return to the land of Cumae“. In this production, Cumae is Arcadia, its underground station sign prominently displayed on the curtains before the start.
Haydn: Applausus: Jubilaeum Virtutis Palatium
The Mozartists, Ian Page
Cadogan Hall, 15 March 2018
In what was almost certainly the first live UK performance of Haydn’s Applausus Cantata (Jubilaeum Virtutis Palatium, Hob XXIVa:6), the Mozartists (the concert-performing wing of Classical Opera) opened the 2018 season of their ambitious Mozart 250 project. This started in 2015, the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s visit to London where, incidentally, he stayed not far from the Cadogan Hall in Ebury Street, and wrote his first symphony, aged 8. The aim is to annually explore the music written by Mozart and his contemporaries exactly 250 years previously.
In 1768, this year’s focus, Mozart was 12 years old and Haydn 36 and well settled into the princely Esterházy court where he directed most of the musical life of the court. He received an invitation from the wealthy Abbey of Zwettl, about 120km west-north-west of Vienna to write an ‘applausus‘ cantata to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their abbot Rainer Kollmann, first taking his monastic vows. Although composed in quasi-operatic style, with a series of accompanied recitative leading up to da capo arias, a duet, quartet and a final chorus, there is no plot in any operatic or literal sense. The four Cardinal Virtues of Temperance, Prudence, Justice and Fortitude sing the praises of the Abbot in a convoluted Latin libretto, probably written by one of the monks. A personification of Theology/Wisdom moderates some of their utterances. I am sure the text meant something to the 17th-century monks of Zwettl, but I found its vaguely moralistic meanderings completely incomprehensible. The repeated references to a ‘Palace’ perhaps reflected the wealth of the monks of Zwettl, whose medieval Abbey buildings had been thoroughly reconstructed in the Baroque style a few decades earlier, complete with one of the largest and most expensive organs in Austria (1731, Egedacher) – all still existing. “How blessed I am to be an inhabitant of this building!’ is one of Prudence’s utterings, to which Justice notes that “our Palace is celebrated in the eyes of the highest”. So that’s all right then! Continue reading
Mozart 250: 1768 – a retrospective
The Mozartists, Ian Page, Chiara Skerath
Wigmore Hall. 23 January 2018
Classical Opera’s ambitious ‘Mozart 250’ project is now in its fourth year. The project started in 2014, taking its title from the number of years since Mozart’s childhood visit to London (1764) when he composed his first significant works. The project aims to “follow the chronological trajectory of Mozart’s life, works and influences”, by performing annual concerts and operas based on the music composed 250 years earlier, culminating in 2041, the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s death. The Mozartists (the concert-performing wing of Classical Opera) opened the 2018 incarnation of the project with an insight into the music that was composed in 1768, the year that Mozart turned 12. It wasn’t a good year for him. It started with his recovery from smallpox and continued with rejection from the Viennese musical coterie, who prevented the production of Mozart’s first opera, La finta semplice. Classical Opera performed this later this year, as well as his Bastien und Bastienne. Continue reading
Haydn: The Seasons 1801
Gabrieli Consort & Players, Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra, National Forum of Music Choir, Paul McCreesh
Signum SIGCD 480. 2 CDs. 133’08
Those that have followed the Gabrieli Consort and Paul McCreesh over the years will know that they rarely do things by halves. In their early years, this included such seminal recordings as, for example, their 1994 reconstruction of a Lutheran Christmas recorded with massed forces in Roskilde Cathedral, the latter chosen because of its important historic organ. In recent years they have built close connections with the National Forum of Music in Wroclaw, Poland. This much heralded recording of the 1801 version of Haydn’s The Seasons is the latest of those collaborations. The opening thunderous wallop on the timpani will warn you that this is a recording of some drama and punch. Using a new performing edition (and English translation) by Paul McCreesh this is the first recording to feature the large orchestral forces that Haydn called for in some of the early performances, with a string section of 60, 10 horns and a choir of 70, using the combined forces of the Gabrieli Consort & Players, Wroclaw Baroque Orchestra and National Forum of Music Choir.
Often overlooked in favour of The Creation, The Seasons is in many ways a more forward-looking work, with more of a hint of the romanticism that was eventually going to overtake all the arts. Continue reading
Haydn: Harmoniemesse, etc.
London Youth Choir & Chamber Choir, Gabrieli Consort & Players
Paul McCreesh, Robbie Jacobs
St Andrew Holborn, 9 March 2017
Ian Grandage: Dawn, Sunset; Ola Gjeilo: Northern Lights; Rheinberger: Morgenlied and Abendlied; Rachmaninov: Bogoroditse Dyevo.
On a day when the BBC reported on research into the sad state of music education in English secondary schools, it was good to be reminded of the many musical activities that are available to young people. Two examples were on show at this event: Gabrieli Roar and the London Youth Choir.
Gabrieli Roar was founded in 2010, and is a partnership between the Gabrieli Consort and a range of British youth choirs, enabling the latter to perform alongside professional musicians and providing support and encouragement, particularly in areas of low cultural provision. The London Youth Choir (LYC) was established in 2012. It runs five choirs for children aged from 3 to 21 years living or educated in Greater London. The choirs are auditioned, and choir members pay £55 a term subscription. It has been a part of Gabrieli Roar since 2015. Continue reading
Haydn: The Creation
London Philharmonic Orchestra & Choir, Sir Roger Norrington
Royal Festival Hall. 4 February 2017
This continuation of the Southbank ‘Belief and Beyond Belief’ series of concerts featured Joseph Haydn’s 1798 Creation. As with two of the pieces in the previous London Philharmonic Orchestra concert (reviewed here), it focussed on the beginning of the world, in this case as depicted in the late Bronze Age writings of the Old Testament. Haydn once said that when he thought of God he could write only cheerful music, and this is evident in his often seemingly irreverent take on God’s creation. Sir Roger Norrington has a similar twinkle in his eye, and was an ideal conductor for Haydn’s often (but perhaps not always intentionally) amusing moments.
As well as his pioneering work in the interpretation of music of earlier times, Norrington is also an enthusiastic supporter of audiences. He has a winning way, which he used on this occasion for another of his themes – applause. Continue reading
Haydn: Op.50 String Quartets
NoMadMusic NMM027. 59’05 + 52.01
Haydn’s Op.50 (Prussian) String Quartets are amongst his finest musical creations, and yet are relatively unknown, apart from the two given the later nicknames of The Dream and The Frog. Composed in 1787, the set was dedicated to Frederick William II of Prussia (apparently in return for a gold ring sent to Haydn by the King), hence the nickname. The fact that he played the cello might explain the opening of the first quartet, with its solo cello repetition of notes. The six quartets are perhaps less immediately appealing and populist than his earlier Op.33 set, and seem to feature Haydn in a more intense and, perhaps, more intellectual mood. The movements usually only explore one theme, perhaps suggesting that Haydn wanted to concentrate on the developmental possibilities of a single theme. Although each has the same four movement format, they are all very different in style, notably the 4th, in the dark key of F# minor, and with its curiously intensely wrought final fugue. Continue reading
Compulsive Lyres and Fowl Play
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Sir Roger Norrington
Royal Festival Hall. 14 February 2016
Haydn: Symphony No.83 (La Poule); Mozart: Concerto in C for flute & harp, K.299; Joseph de Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-George: Overture, L’amant anonyme; Beethoven: Symphony No.2.
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment’s Department for Thinking up Silly Concert Titles had a field day with this one, coming up with ‘Compulsive Lyres and Fowl Play’. Under the benevolent direction of Sir Roger Norrington, the OAE’s programme was centred on the fascinating character Joseph de Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-George (b1745), the son of a wealthy French plantation owner in Guadeloupe, and his African slave. Educated back in France from the age of 7, he first became known as a fencer, graduating from the Academy of fencing and horsemanship aged 21 and somehow collecting the title of chevalier (knight) on the way. Quite how he achieved his skills in music is not known, but the composers Lolli and Gossec had already dedicated works to him before he was 21. He quickly became one of the leading Parisian violinists and orchestra leaders. He briefly lived in the same house as Mozart (the mansion of his mentor, the Duke of Orléans in Paris), and was leader of the enormous Masonic Loge Olympique orchestra, for which Haydn wrote his Paris Symphonies.
It was one of those Paris Symphonies that opened the programme, No 83 in G minor, the so-called La Poule, nicknamed after the hen-like clucking Continue reading
Haydn: Symphony 7 & 83, Violin Concerto in C
Handel and Haydn Society, Aisslinn Nosky, violin, Harry Christophers
Coro COR 16139. 74’24
Although Bach is something of a God-like figure for me, I think he would be rather scary to actually meet. I have often felt that I would love to have sat at a nearby table where I could overhear Bach, but would rather actually meet and converse with Haydn. The pieces on this CD demonstrate something of those aspects of Haydn’s character that make him appear so approachable. Amongst the first works that Haydn wrote after his 1761 arrival at the Esterházy court were the three symphonies based on the times of the day – Le main, Le midi and Le soir. Many players in the orchestra were already friends of his from Vienna, and these three symphonies were an inspired calling card for their new musical director, with most of the players given key solo moments. Continue reading
Haydn: The Creation
Handel + Haydn Society, Harry Christophers
CORO: COR16135. 51’39+46’36
Sarah Tynan, soprano; Jeremy Ovenden, tenor; Matthew Brook, bass-baritone
Boston’s Handel + Haydn Society gave the first US performance of Haydn’s The Creation in 1819, just three years after their foundation, having performed Part One in their first year. Their name (at the time, a representation of their interest in ‘old’ and ‘new’ music), has a resonance with The Creation. It was Haydn’s response to hearing Handel’s Isreal in Egypt and Messiah in the 1791 Westminster Abbey Handel Festival, with a large choir and orchestra of more than 100 people. Two hundred years after their foundation, the Handel + Haydn Society’s bicentennial season ended with two performances in Boston’s Symphony Hall, Boston on 1 and 3 May 2015. This double CD is a live recording of those performances. I didn’t detect any audience noise or other potential live recording mishaps, but certainly detected the thrill and exhilaration of live music making. It bubbles over with the energy and vitality of a live performance, rather than a carefully crafted studio recording. Continue reading
City of London Festival. London Symphony Orchestra & Chorus
St Paul’s Cathedral. 24 June 2015
Haydn was a popular composer in London well before his first visit, in 1790. During that visit, according to the minimal note in the City of London Festival programme, he conducted a “hatful” of newly composed symphonies. Who writes this stuff? As well as his hatful of symphonies, he also got to know St Paul’s Cathedral, and heard one of the large-scale performances of Handel oratorios, then all the rage, in Westminster Abbey. But I don’t think Haydn would have seen St Paul’s as an appropriate venue for his 1798 Creation. It was first performed in a theatre in Vienna, with its London première in the similar acoustic of the Covent Garden Theatre. In contrast with these theatre acoustics, he enormous volume of St Paul’s created musical havoc with the sound, even from my privileged seat well towards the front. What people at the back might have heard I can only imagine.
Based on the creation myth from Genesis, Milton’s Continue reading