Opera + Classical Music Reviews

OAE/Gardner @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

23 April 2009

Alongside all the carefully planned celebrations, Haydn’s anniversary has elicited a surprising outpouring of sympathy.

Queen Elizabeth Hall / Purcell Room

Queen Elizabeth Hall / Purcell Room (Photo: India Roper-Evans)

Commentators have lamented that Haydn is regarded as overly prolific, unfashionable and ‘deeply unsexy’ by many.

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment has certainly made an effort to address these popular misconceptions with a season devoted to Haydn under the tag-line Radical. Genius. Entertainer. and this concert with guest conductor Edward Gardner went a long way to proving each of those qualities true. Ostensibly the programme sought to explore Haydn’s role as the godfather of the symphony format with a Mozart concerto included for reflection but in doing so it also revealed his keen wit and astonishing creativity.

We began with his Symphony No.7 in C Major, ‘Le Midi’, an early work for a modest ensemble at his disposal that betrays a debt to Corelli: polite and restrained, it offers several solo passages, including an intimate duet between the cello and first violin. With the Symphony No.64 in A Major, ‘Tempora mutantur’, the orchestra expanded and dynamics became more fluid and dramatic. And with the Symphony No.90 in C Major, Haydn’s imagination in full flight and his humour now cheeky and confident (fooling the audience with a double false ending), the evening completed its thrilling crescendo.

Mozart’s Flute Concerto No.2 in D Major, K314, inserted between the two last symphonies, served to both refresh the palate and to show how Haydn manipulated traditional concerto format. Flutist Lisa Beznosiuk, a principal with the OAE, floated the solo line with style, and here, more than ever, did we appreciate the distinctive sound of this period ensemble Beznosiuk’s early flute accentuating the instrument’s woodwind aspect against a backdrop of mellifluous brass and soft, raw strings.

Throughout Gardner conducted with elegance and precision, his direction coming from short, sharp gestures and contrapposto twitches, and displayed a generosity of spirit that allowed the OAE musicians space to speak for themselves.

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