★★★★☆ Sydney ensemble round off a stunning season with plenty of Sturm und Drang.

Utzon Room, Sydney Opera House
December 18, 2016

“A musician cannot move others unless he too is moved. He must of necessity feel all of the effects that he hopes to arouse in his audience, for the revealing of his own humour will stimulate a like humour in the listener.” – CPE Bach

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach would have been well pleased that his famous dictum was lived up to so completely when the 20 musicians of the Australian Haydn Ensemble put the seal on a momentous season under dynamic young guest conductor and harpsichordist Erin Helyard.

He would also have been delighted with the choice of programme – three of his works which led Mozart to declare him “the father of us all” and a Haydn symphony to round the afternoon off.

It has been a landmark year for the AHE with a fine CD debut for ABC Classics, a new chairman of the board and patron in former NSW Governor Dame Marie Bashir and their first concert in a sold out City Recital Hall.

But it was back to their home ground, the Utzon Room at Sydney Opera House, for the close of their sixth season since they were established in 2011 under artistic director Skye McIntosh.

Helyard, who is Artistic Director and Co-Founder of Pinchgut Opera and the Orchestra of the Antipodes, got things off to a lively start with CPE Bach’s short and action-packed Sinfonia WQ 178 in E minor, as good an introduction to this composer as you can get with its swift and unpredictable mood swings, eccentric rhythms and adventurous harmonies.

For this work doubled flutes and oboes, bassoon and the two natural horns of Darryl Poulsen and Doree Dixon, with Helyard directing from the keyboard, augmented the strings.

Melissa Farrow

After this heart-starter Melissa Farrow’s boxwood “Blondie” flute featured in her third solo spot with the AHE, performing Bach’s delightful Flute Concerto WQ 22 in D minor. This was a bit of a reunion for Farrow and Helyard as they had collaborated on this work as students at Sydney Conservatorium.

After the wild leaping runs of the allegro first movement, and the gorgeous lyricism of the singing Andante, it is the third movement which is the true Sturm und Drang element of this work, all darting strings and driving rhythms, handled superbly and with remarkable breath control by Farrow.

One of the violinists ate a well-deserved half-time banana to restore some energy to his bowing arm.

After interval it was the turn of Helyard to take the solo spotlight for the first of six harpsichord concertos Bach composed in his Berlin years. The instrument was turned round so Helyard faced the audience. We couldn’t see his hands but we were able to follow his eloquent facial expressions and gestures as he led the orchestra, concentrated on the intricate solo work and managed to turn the pages all in one seamless gesture.

This is another work that shows the magnificent unpredictability of Bach, who even dares to stop the music in the slow movement, giving us a few beats of silence.

Helyard’s performance was a perfect complement to his reading of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 14 in the Angel Place concert in July.

Haydn’s Passion Symphony No 49 is a dark work by that composer’s standards with an opening movement much in the spirit of his Seven Last Words of Christ.

Helyard never let its weighty opening movement drag, being alive to its every nuance and keeping a tight control of dynamic, allowing the music to build to its magnificent and vivid climax in the final movement.

- See more at: http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/live-reviews/haydns-passion-australian-haydn-ensemble#sthash.ofgEeX0p.dpuf

★★★★☆ Mozart and the two Haydns prove a crowd-pleaser for period ensemble.

It’s an exciting time to be alive for the Australian Haydn Ensemble: a new chairman of the board; a new high-profile patron in former NSW Governor Dame Marie Bashir; their debut CD released by ABC Classics and this concert, their first in the City Recital Hall. Filling the Utzon Room at the Opera House is an achievement, but being able to pack out the ground floor at Angel Place deserves praise indeed. And all of this has happened in a handful of seasons since the group was established in 2011 under Artistic Director Skye McIntosh.

For this celebratory tour the AHE invited along Erin Helyard, Artistic Director and Co-Founder of Pinchgut Opera and the Orchestra of the Antipodes, to direct them from the fortepiano and perform Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 14. Led by McIntosh, it was immediately apparent that this is a crack team. The strings have that light and airy quality so integral to the Classical sound but with plenty of muscle for the Sturm und Drang moments. The woodwind section is first class, solidly and reliably augmented by the Australian Brandenburg horn team of Darryl Poulson and Doree Dixon.

The programme opened with Michael Haydn’s Symphony No 25. Up until the beginning of the last century this was thought to have been Mozart’s 37th Symphony because he had copied out Haydn’s score and added a short adagio introduction. He also deleted the bassoon solo in the second movement but this performance, jokingly spruiked as a “world premiere” by Helyard, reinstated it, much to the delight of bassoonists Simon Rickard and Jackie Newcombe. That movement also featured some fine work from the oboes of Emma Black and Ingo Muller.

Helyard proved a dazzling soloist on the borrowed fortepiano, a replica of one owned by the composer. Energetic and dynamic, his command of the keyboard is matched only by his tight control of the orchestra. The four movements ticked over like a finely tuned high-end limousine. The work is one of four piano concertos Mozart dashed off in a mere eight weeks.

Cellist Daniel Yeadon needs little introduction to Sydney audiences, being a regular contributor to the Australian Chamber Orchestra as well as leading early music ensembles. He showed his impeccable credentials – he was for many years cellist with the English Fitzwilliam String Quartet as well as with Florilegium – in a lovely performance of Joseph Haydn’s much-loved C Major Concerto, the manuscript of which was only rediscovered in 1964. The concerto, with its memorable melodies and stormy passages in the outer movements, exploits the instrument’s middle and higher registers with some challenging runs and Yeadon’s accuracy and warm tone were never in doubt. As part of his approach to the work the cellist listened to several early recordings, including ones by the great violinist Joseph Joachim, attempting to capture their tone, particularly the use of narrow vibrato as well as their free use of tempo. 

More Storm und Drang (with a touch of the farmyard) to finish with a splendid reading of Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No 83, La Poule (The Hen), the first violins and oboes contributing in the first movement the clucking effects which give it its nickname. This was definitely a refreshing and free-range performance with the musicians radiating a sense of fun and enjoyment – none of your factory-farmed interpretations here.

- See more at: http://www.limelightmagazine.com.au/live-reviews/review-haydn-mozart-australian-haydn-ensemble#sthash.e8wLqKL0.dpuf

“This debut recording captures all the fantasy and lyricism of three of Haydn’s ‘concertos’.”

The strength of early music in Australia is on show in the Australian Haydn Ensemble’s recent disc for ABC Classics featuring three concertos — well, two concertos and a concertante symphony — by the great eighteenth-century master. A relatively recent newcomer to the early music scene in this country, the Ensemble nonetheless brings together performers who have worked in contexts including Pinchgut Opera and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. The Ensemble’s work so far has indeed seen it make a feature of the work of Haydn, but it has ranged or is soon to range into the work of C.P.E. Bach, Boccherini and Beethoven. The Ensemble joins Ironwood (with which it shares some personnel) in providing advocacy for the music of the first Viennese School and is a welcome addition to the range of endeavour of Australia’s early musicians.

Australian Haydn Ensemble

Daniel Yeadon is the soloist in Haydn’s first cello concerto, an early work of the composer’s and contemporary with the concertante symphony Le matin that also features on the disc. The ensemble’s conception of this concerto leans towards a chamber-like intimacy, with close attention paid to the fine details — one never gets the sense that any part of the orchestral accompaniment has been written off as passagework. This intensely observed playing also suits and marks Yeadon’s playing, which is never forced, always closely detailed, expansively lyrical in the second movement, but muscular where it needs to be in the first movement and skittish in the third movement. Everything finds its correct place — from the unity of string sound to the correct weighting of brass parts — and the performance is a real joy.

Daniel Yeadon

I have been able to compare the Ensemble’s performance of Haydn’s sixth symphony with a handful of other recordings in a variety of other interpretations — both ‘orthodox’ early music performances and more modern orchestras nodding in the direction of historical performance practice as well as larger and smaller configurations. There is a fine line to tread, it seems, between having your orchestra too large and running the risk by subordinating the concertante parts of making them sound like incidental details in what is otherwise a standard symphony or making a bolder case, using a smaller, chamber-sized orchestra, that the ‘symphony’ is a kind of group concerto in disguise: the latter approach is the one the Ensemble takes. I think this approach works very well in the second movement, which is mostly a violin concerto and more rarely a violin-and-cello-concerto, but less well in the more densely scored outer movements, where the ‘soloists’ are indeed more readily cast in the position of bit contributors to something that is more standardly orchestral in texture. The concertante playing, however, is excellent, with a fine sense of the dialogic nature of the musical discourse. The opening ‘sunrise’ of the first movement and the lovely organ-based continuo orchestration of the slow movement are especially fine.

Harpsichordist Erin Helyard

The highlight of this disc for me at least is the final work, the Harpsichord Concerto in D major Hob XVIII:11. Fine as the cello concerto and Le matin are, you know within the first notes of this concerto that you are dealing with Haydn in the full flower of his maturity, in a Vienna obsessed by the preciosities of the galant style in the first movement (especially in the veering from the major-key sparkling, often syncopated episodes to the often more wayward minor-key episodes) and the Hungarian style in the final movement. The Ensemble changes character here again, providing a big-boned accompaniment scaled to the kind of vision soloist Erin Helyard has for this work.  Helyard’s instrument is a copy of a Goujon 1749 harpsichord that is absolutely fit for the purpose and, frankly, Helyard is at his best when he gives it a good thrashing. A no-holds barred player, from continuo to solo playing Helyard is also fearless when sailing dangerously close to mannerism, as he occasionally does in the first movement of the concerto. But who cares? This is super playing, and I for one can’t wait for the Ensemble to tackle some of the harpsichord concertos of C.P.E. Bach on disc.

 

This is a disc that serves as an eloquent reminder that there are few more rewarding experiences than an hour or so spent in Haydn’s company.

Behind the prosaic title lie vital, perceptive period instrument performances of three of Haydn’s most popular orchestral works. Both the C-major Cello Concerto and the Symphony No. 6, part of a trilogy devoted to the times of the day, date from the mid-1760s, a period when the young Haydn was settling into his new post at Esterházy.

With its many concertante elements, ‘Le matin’ gives a strong sense of the composer delighting in assessing the strength of his newly acquired orchestra. The fine evocation of dawn is here given a real sense of expectancy, though the keyboard continuo flourishes seem to me out of place. When day breaks the main allegro is given a bright-eyed, sharply observed focus, the concertante wind playing full of character and technically outstanding. The improvisatory second movement features a splendidly played violin solo from Skye McIntosh, but the rhythm of the central andante section sounds a little mannered and I’m unconvinced by Erin Helyard’s note arguing justification for the use of organ continuo in this movement. The peaceful suspensions of the final pages sound truly lovely. The Minuet is finely rhythmically sprung, the central trio section again given real character by the bassoonist, while the concertante element is again to the fore in the zestful Finale.

The Cello Concerto opens at an agreeably comfortable tempo allowing full reign to its lyricism, while at the same time not neglecting rhythmic impetus. Daniel Yeadon’s solo playing is technically accomplished and tonally secure across the register, with some particularly sensitive playing in the development. The central Adagio is felicitously phrased, with some subtle use of portamento and rubato along the way, while the final movement carries real nervous intensity in its strong forward momentum. Is the cello a little too forwardly recorded? Maybe, but it’s only in the busy activity of the finale that such thoughts really comes to mind.

 

Erin Helyard’s performance of the well-known D-major Keyboard Concerto (1784) is given on a copy of a Goujon of 1749 by Andrew Garlick. It’s a mellifluous instrument with an especially attractive silvery upper register, played here by Helyard with firm-fingered accomplishment. If I’m marginally less taken with the performance than the other two, it is because some of the tempo fluctuations made in cause of dramatic effect in the opening Vivace seem to me to come dangerously close to mannerism. But the cantabile of the operatic central Adagio is compellingly laid out, while the famous Hungarian rondo finale is given with all the unbridled élan that anyone could want.

This is a disc that serves as an eloquent reminder that there are few more rewarding experiences than an hour or so spent in Haydn’s company.

Brian Robins - Early Music Review