This aperiodic visitor to live period instrument music-making found much to take in. The Handel and Haydn Society’s Sunday Symphony Hall outing with Harry Christophers definitely encouraged future visits—for more Haydn, especially. Thirty-eight symphonies apart, Nos. 49 and 87 offered thriving real-time, real-space illustrations of evolution. Earlier and later Haydn resounded. Mozart’s ever familiar Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola with Aisslinn Nosky and Max Mandel kept promising that same Haydn super sculpting. Though the surface sparkled, luminosity on the inside did not quite happen.
Beyond the history lessons, admiration for turning elegant phrase after elegant phrase in Haydn cannot be overstated here. In Haydn’s Symphony No. 49, La Passione in F Minor, despite some stumbles in the horn part and a tad of overplay on Haydn’s mystifying echoing in the Menuett, the winds mostly sustained a rich backdrop, while sometimes sounding an expressive cadential announcement.
The slow opening movement and the Finale transported through serious play: a touchingly nuanced 11-minute Adagio; then, what might be, if fast-forwarded to Hollywood, a Tom and Jerry routine, frisky provocations leading to dangerous encounters. What Haydn was thinking we certainly were made aware (other images might be more suitable for many among the solid and appreciative turnout).
Subtleties, though, would need to wait for H+H’s concert closer, No. 87.
And what about period instruments, orchestral size? Such welcome transparency never wanted for power. In fact, H+H displayed an unsuspecting range of dynamics, of very soft to very loud, of finely whispered undertones to impactful outward overtones. Yet, the seemingly infinite array of those in between nuances really surprised, better yet, seized rapt attention.
The ever-beloved Mozart may not be as “adventuresome” as Haydn, or as generous with surprises, but when one of his top 40, such as Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major K. 364 is on the agenda, expectations can run high.
Artistic Director and conductor Harry Christophers absented himself from this Mozart, leaving concertmaster Nosky to lead. Nosky and violist Mandel maximized their roles. Nosky favored clean unfettered tone, especially on the higher strings, while Mandel drew his bow into timbral expressiveness. Their pathway leaned toward refined elocution and unmistakably and highly energized vibrancy.
The accompanying physical movements of leader Nosky distracted. Beyond the cheerful moments of the Concertante, for instance, the visual and music-making sides often went uncorrelated.
Missed also, a meaningful, or at least some probing, interplay with the extremely fine orchestra, which, save for the cellists, stood throughout this H+H performance.
The Adagio reached so near benchmark iterations with more cadenzas, oh, ever so near the cusp of carrying a listener away. The concluding Presto relaxed, going carefree.
A well-timed intermission prepared listeners and players for the opening Vivace of Haydn’s Symphony No. 87 in A Major. H+H’s endearing big sound, coming with maximum instrumental clarity, carried much of the first movement. Haydn’s exploration into the cadenza idea summoned woodwinds, recorder, oboe, and bassoon beyond supporting roles. Here and elsewhere, these were tonally rich and movingly articulated.
Keeping an eye on Christophers informed as well. His conducting goes the way of baton-less hands that open and close, of shoulders that rise and fall, arms completely outstretched or virtually hidden from view. Following this, Haydn via Christophers’s illustrated movements and H+H’s playing settled everything. The far beyond loomed.
Topping-off the grace in the Adagio and dialogues of sorts in the Menuet, a colorful and cinematic Finale: Vivace sped, stopped and startled in an atypical finale. H+H+Christophers synched and cinched Haydn, enlightened and enlivened to the nth degree.
David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer). www.notescape.net