Thursday, 26 February 2009

PAPA HAYDN & YOU / The Philharmonic Orchestra Haydn Cycle / Review

The Philharmonic Orchestra
LIM YAU, Conductor
National Museum
Sunday (22 February 2009)

Has there been a more underrated composer than Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)? He composed over a hundred symphonies, but how often do these, if any, appear in the Singapore Symphony Orchestra concert seasons? In commemorating the 200th anniversary of Haydn’s death, The Philharmonic Orchestra (TPO) under the indefatigable Lim Yau have righted several wrongs by embarking on a Haydn symphony series in the Salon of the National Museum.

The venue is probably not much larger than Haydn’s own at Esterhaza, and the sound generated by a small orchestra is close and vivid, without too much reverberation from the stonewalls and marble floor. Two rather different symphonies were selected to launch the series, which also had an educational element presented by Symphony 92.4 deejay Phua Ee Kia.

There was a tentative start to Symphony No.73 in D major (1782), which soon settled once the first movement’s Allegro got underway. The mostly amateur group could have done with more intimacy in the slower and quieter bits, and sounded less four-square in the minuet-like dance sections. However, there was no lack of fervour in the general ensemble, with the French horns generating a robust sound in the bumptious “hunt” conclusion, which gave the symphony its nickname La Chasse (The Chase).

What a sensation this music must have caused on its first hearing, as was the Beethoven-like opening to Symphony No.82 “The Bear” in C major (1786), the first of Haydn’s Paris Symphonies. Exploiting wind, brass and the timpani to their max, the performance flexed every muscle and sinew, breaking all restraints to so-called classical prettiness. Yet there were concessions for soloistic prowess, well demonstrated by the solo oboists in both symphonies.

If Haydn (left) had a musical successor, it would have surely been Beethoven, whose storm-tossed compositional tantrums were already anticipated in Haydn’s copybook. The pastoral drone in the rustic finale, suggesting a village dancing bear, went several leaps further - pointing to Brahms and as Maestro Lim rightly alluded to, Stravinsky. More Haydn is keenly awaited, perhaps his concertos, string quartets and further symphonies, just about 102 to go!

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