Review by Judith Caldwell
Hammer Baroque got off to their usual early start to the 2017/18 season with a concert on the Saturday of Labour Day weekend. This time it was the Eybler Quartet presenting an afternoon of classical chamber music by Vanhal, Asplmayr, Hayden and Mozart, even though the concert was billed as Beethoven and Vanhal. Bud Roach took the blame for the confusion, and while there may have been some disappointed Beethoven fans, they were not evident as the near-capacity and knowledgeable audience thoroughly enjoyed the quartets which were offered. String Quartet Op. 6 No. 2 (1771) by Johann Vanhal opened the concert.
It was a difficult, delightful piece in three movements, very much in the classical style which showed off the skills of the four musicians – violinists Julia Wedman and Aisslinn Nosky; Margaret Gay, cello and violist Patrick G. Jordan who have played together since 2004.
Vanhal started life as a Czech serf from a peasant family and his musicianship must have been extraordinary to cause his rise such that he even played in a string quartet with Dittersdorf, Hayden and Mozart. In the decade from 1770-’80 he was the most widely published composer and was one of the first composers to be successful enough to support himself without a patron for the last 30 years of his life. String Quartet Op.2 No.3 by the Austrian Franz Asplmayr was played next. It is a lovely piece in five movements that began as a dance, moved to a sombre, longing menuetto and ended as a lively round with the instruments speaking to each other. He apparently wrote many symphonies, some of which were panned by critics, but none survive for us the judge.
After two very classical pieces we moved on to a very playful Hayden. String Quartet Op.33 No.1 is the first of six quartets dedicated to Tsar Paul II. The dramatic Allegro moderato has much more contrast between instruments and features very strong cello lines; the scherzo is humorous; the allegro di molto is beautiful; the andante is pensive and the finale presto is diabolically difficult and intense and very satisfying. The audience loved it. After intermission came String Quartet in E flat major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of his Hayden quartets, written possibly for the group in which they both played. It begins with a lively Allegro and moves on to an absolutely gorgeous slow and mysterious andante con moto. The Minuetto and Trio is both lively and stately at the same time and the final allegro vivace is a rich and unpredictable and showcases a Mozart simply overflowing with ideas. Wonderful music masterfully played – a great start to the season. The next concert is on September 24th at Melrose United Church.