Monday, 11 May 2009

The Philharmonic Orchestra: Papa Haydn & You II / Review

The Philharmonic Orchestra
Lim Yau, Conductor
Esplanade Recital Studio
Thursday (7 May 2009)

An edited version of this review was published in The Straits Times on 9 May 2009.

It was a refreshing change attending a concert wholly devoted to the symphonies of Joseph Haydn, when the norm is a Haydn symphony serving merely as the prelude to some overplayed Romantic warhorse. In its two-concert series, The Philharmonic Orchestra under conductor Lim Yau tapped into a treasure trove untouched by our national symphony orchestra.

What riches these underestimated works bring, especially to ears more accustomed to the likes of Mozart and Beethoven. The stürm und drang (storm and stress) elements in the early symphonies No.26 (Lamentation) and No.49 (La Passione) – both in minor keys – reveal the wealth of Haydn’s emotional depth. The so-called “Father of the Symphony” was not just adept at cheerful melodies and musical jokes.

The latter symphony, first performed on a Good Friday, was in somber, tragic and even despairing F minor throughout, with the Trio section of the 3rd movement in F major illuminating like a rare ray of sunshine. Unfortunately, the scene was pelted by raspberries from the French horns, and the close to magical effect almost went begging.

This is a totally acceptable phenomenon of amateur music-making, as were the occasions of hesitancy, wayward intonation and uneven ensemble. However these were more than made up for by the enthusiasm and passion exhibited by Lim’s charges. It all came together in Symphony No.85, nicknamed La Reine because it was purportedly Queen Marie Antoinette’s (left) favourite of Haydn’s Paris Symphonies.

The French elements – dotted rhythms at the onset and the 2nd movement’s variations on a French tune – were well handled. Perhaps one forgot that the ill-fated monarch was Viennese by birth, and 3rd movement’s Trio a gloriously bucolic Ländler, that humble Austrian dance in three-quarter time.

Played with much fervour and brio, that and other moments of inspiration were a wellspring of quiet joy. Despite the few niggles, this concert – with each symphony preceded by a short introduction by Symphony 92.4 host Phua Ee Kia – was an enjoyable hour well spent.

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