There is something poignant yet strange about experiencing music as people would have consumed it hundreds of years ago. Today, music is everywhere, its accessibility so ubiquitous and effortless but largely beyond our control. You can hear the sounds of a full orchestra on your phone and book tickets for a live show on the same device without much hassle.
Yet, before the recorded sound, sitting in the crowd at a live orchestral concert was exceedingly rare.
More likely, if you were in the affluent medium, you could only experience the pruned version of a quartet or chamber orchestra, instead of the expansive sounds of a 90-piece ensemble. You would have known Beethoven Heroic or Mozart’s symphonies for the first time as part of a few performers – as did Monday night’s concert at Sydney’s City Recital Hall, when the Australian Haydn Ensemble continued their series of chamber arrangements of popular symphonic works.
Wranitzky’s Symphony in C minor kicked off the program, its first movement revealing the turbulent spirit on which it is titled; The revolution. Led by artistic director Skye McIntosh, the ensemble ensured a balanced cohesion of joy, urgency and exuberant hope, weaving dynamic phrases of liveliness and tenderness. An anticipatory fever of revolt could be heard through each player’s energetic performance, initiating a deep sense of future and wonder.
The two violists, Karina Schmitz and James Eccles, achieved a balanced and soft timbre, filling the middle layers of the scores, while cellist Daniel Yeadon provided a bright and assured bass line, assisted by Jacqueline Dossor on double bass. – although at times his sound seemed somewhat muffled and slightly obscured.
Despite McIntosh’s leadership role overall, I found myself wanting more sound from his instrument too, or just more boldness. It was as if she was locked in a suit of armor, which I wanted her to get rid of.
On the other hand, fellow violinist, Matthew Greco, displayed the lively, regal poise of someone from Wranitzky’s day, carving intricate lines that seemed both soft and punchy. He brought a weight of etherity and vigor to the movement, helping to steer the melodic narrative to its explosive close.
The ensemble limited itself to the first movement of this work, before moving on to one of Mozart’s most famous symphonies, Symphony No. 40 in G minor.
Performing Venetian composer Giambattista Cimador’s daring arrangement, the ensemble took flautist Melissa Farrow into the fold, her delicate yet formidable tone skillfully mimicking an orchestral wind instrument section.
In the second movement, his sweet touch reached a sweet symbiosis with Yeadon on cello, while Dossor displayed a skillful and sensitive connection with the two violists.
Greco was definitely the most exciting player of the night. He embodied the vitality of the following movements, possessing a flamboyant sense of youth and adventure necessary to bring the essence of Mozart to life.
In the next and final work of the evening, Beethoven Heroic Symphony, his flair and command showed through the rest of the ensemble, despite some shifts in intonation from his leader.
Throughout the first and second movements, McIntosh demonstrated she was capable of great dynamic range, bringing out the complex richness of Girolamo Masi’s arrangement, which was restored by Australian musician Vi King Lim.
The ensemble gave an instinctive and agile performance, conveying the typical grace of Beethoven’s symphonic works.
Certain passages were not always perfectly executed, but that did not detract from the moving power of the whole.
The musicians showed a strong rhythmic union throughout the final movement, where the jubilant harmonies thundered until the powerful end, once again concluding a beautiful concert with a beautiful ensemble.
The Australian Haydn Ensemble plays by Beethoven Heroic at Lake Macquarie on August 13 and at Parramatta on August 14.