Review by Danny Gaisin
It occasionally surprises me as to the way things connect. My original interest in Joseph Haydn wasn’t his compositional talent…it was his connection to the Esterhazy family and especially Ferdinand Esterhazy who was the actual traitor for whose crimes Alfred Dreyfus was sent to Devil’s Island. Zola’s “J’Accuse”was collegiate compulsory reading. That the man had written 14 masses; 5 operas; 22 arias; 125 symphonies; 30 concerti & 77 string quartets; 40 piano trios ; 66 wind & string pieces etc. obviously tweaked my curiosity. Quite an output for six decades! Socially, the man married the sister of his lover and lived unhappily ever after.
The Hamilton Philharmonic has tributed the man with a week of study, musical events, and culminated with an extraordinary concert last evening. Utilizing an abbreviated orchestra of only thirty-four members, the stage of CORE’s Grand Hall seemed more like an oversized chamber ensemble than the usual four-dozen assemblages. Given the program; it was a wise directorial concept. Naturally, the selections opened & closed with work by Franz Joseph Haydn, but also presented works by the lesser-known Muzio Clementi & Ignaz Pleyel who were contemporaries. As a bonus, excerpts from “Idomeneo”, by Mozart whose short life’s duration was within the 1732- 1832 era of the others.
The opening Haydn overture from his ‘Orfeo ed Euridice’. This operatic retelling of the talents of Orpheus’ harp-playing, enable him to descend into Hades to visit his dead love -Euridice. The music replicates the adoration felt, as well as the daunting challenge of such an undertaking. Conductor GEMMA NEW captured all the nuances and portraiture’s that encompass this composition. The four-movement Clementi Symphony in B-flat offers energetic riffs; romantic cadenzas and is melodically lyrical. The motif reiterations of the finale evoke some of Mozartian pieces. A bit of trivia – these two composer/musicians once had a piano competition at the instigation of Emperor Joseph II.
Mozart’s Idomeneo is an opera based on the post-Trojan War Greek mythology about punishment, sacrifice and jealousy (i.e. All the good stuff of operatic tragedy!) The HPO performed the piece faultlessly with gusto and emphasis perfectly suited to the piece. The energy shown by the musicians mirrored that of the podium.
Post-interval, the orchestra’s principal bassoonist Eric Hall was centre stage to interpret Playel’s Bassoon Concerto. My first exposure to the instrument was from saxophonist Illinois Jacquet who also double on the instrument. I remember him telling me it was about 19 feet in length…about three times that of the lanky Hall himself. Sound-wise, the instrument is something like a clarinet (2-reeds) – but on steroids. Writers ofttimes parallel it to a fine baritone voice. The work was read with a decidedly humanistic style, almost as if the instrument and it’s player were wooing the music with tenderness and solicitude.
The final work was Haydn’s symphony 88, with it’s dominant G major key. This four movement work displays recaps and derivations as it progresses movement to movement. The opening is fun; the largo was delicately articulated while the minuet was an almost stereotypical fling or square dance. The finale allegro was given an almost rondo treatment that was a vary effective rendering. The winds and Iadeluca’s kettle drums were both a strong contributing factor.
During intermission, I made a new friend. Charlie (& his kid brother) are both violinists and to celebrate his birthday , asked for a classical concert en-famile. He was positively affected by the high technical stature of the HPO musicians and was especially impressed by the fact that conductor New did not require a baton to maintain her orchestral control. Charlie turns eight tomorrow
Speaking of Gemma New,; she’s a welcome breath of spring. The lady never needs stooping to any silly props like moustaches or clown noses to be entertaining. There are no idioms of showmanship or ego such as is occasionally displayed by her counterparts. Her knowledge, personality and the intimacy she’s established with her audience are sufficient to maintain even increase ‘sold out’ performances. Much thanks, milady.