30 June 2017
The happiest band
They were happy. I was intrigued and amused to watch the various faces, sometimes concentrating, often smiling, actually doing both. Australian Haydn Ensemble were beaming. So was their guest, Melvyn Tan. They were dressed in black and white with red features. Some features were pretty insignificant, not that they should have been too flashy. A few socks and some waistcoats and cravats. I hadn't noticed the colours as a theme until James told me afterwards. Just the smiles. Smile, and so they should. Skye has crafted this ensemble over several years into a worthy, international-level group playing with period authority and a relaxed elan. They don't always play as such a large ensemble, but they did record this way, and they do return at least yearly in a large format. I loved the music, of course, Chevalier de St-George, Mozart and Haydn, from that early classical era, and I especially loved how they played it (that explains their smiles and mine). The dynamics were so detailed and shared, with swells and dims and cres turning on a note and phrases that were spelt out in notes and dynamics that moved together. So well done; so strong and together. This is what matters, the shared expression in and around the melody and the driving consistency of the rhythms, and this had all these. Melvyn Tan just played one piece, the Mozart Concerto for keyboard no.18 K456, leading from the chair with music oddly on a stand to his left. He played fortepiano, so softer and less sustained than a modern piano. We were sitting right in front and even for us it could hide behind a decent forte from the orchestra. Melvyn, too, was all smiles, obviously a generous and welcoming guest, bent over the keyboard for his solos or twisted to the orchestra and waving in leadership. The other pieces were Chevalier's symph op.11 no.2 Dmaj and Haydn Symph no.85 Bbmaj 'La Reine', dedicated to Marie Antoinette. Of these, the Haydn was the more demanding with some tortuous lines in a few places. But mostly I notice the easy speed. This music is pretty regular and reasonably easy to read and play, but to spell the phrasing and to easily hold the swift lines demanded of all the instruments (bass gets its share) and to do it all with lightness and vivacity is the challenge. AHE does it with ease and aplomb and much good humour. So, congrats to Skye and her group for the development so far, and it'll be interesting to watch just how far this can go. Just a wonderful, joyous concert with considerable historical authority.
Melvyn Tan (fortepiano) appeared with the Australian Haydn Ensemble at Albert Hall. AHE comprised Skye McIntosh (violin 1, artistic director, concertmaster) with Matt Greco, Simone Slattery and Lathika Vithanage (violins 1), Rafael Font, Stephen Freeman, Annie Gard and Alice Rickards (violins 2), Deirdre Dowling, James Eccles, Gabrielle Kancachian and Martin Wiggins (violas), Anthony Albrecht, Anton Baba and Natasha Kraemer (cellos), Jacqueline Dossor (bass), Melissa Farrow (flute), Ingo Müller and Amy Power (oboes), Takako Nugumi and Simon Rickard (bassoons), Doree Dixon and Darryl Poulsen (horns).