The Australian Haydn Ensemble’s 2019 season got under way with a chorus of birdsongs, some creatures that on earth do dwell, and a strong surge of solar power in an all Haydn program of quartets at the Utzon Room.
Under artistic director and leader Skye McIntosh, the pared back ensemble put on a gorgeous program of four works aimed at showing Haydn’s love of nature.
Although the nicknames The Bird, The Lark and Sunrise didn’t come from the composer and were usually added by the publisher to flog a few more copies, they do nevertheless capture the spirit of these pieces.
Australian Haydn Ensemble’s James Eccles. Photograph supplied
The program was laid out in chronological order so it was The Bird Quartet, the third from the groundbreaking Op 33 set, which got the evening off to a chirpy, hopping and trilling start and the four musicians, playing on period instruments with gut strings, gave a good account of this attractive work.
But the ensemble truly took flight in The Lark – Op. 64 No 5 – which followed. Here the ensemble work seemed more assured, the intonation truer and McIntosh’s flights up the fingerboard in the opening movement were quite spectacular.
Unity was maintained in the less pyrotechnical middle movements with some nice witty touches in the menuetto with its unexpected chord progression, before the harum-scarum hornpipe finale, which was exceptionally good.
The second half started with four extracts from The Creation, set as a string quartet anonymously in the 18th century. This was common practice so that large-scale works could be brought easily to domestic audiences.
Opening with the famous orchestral Chaos section and ending with a fugue, this was an interesting curiosity piece that fitted nicely into the program and left the listener in awe of the skill of the arranger.
One of Haydn’s most popular quartets, the Sunrise (Op 76 No 1) brought the evening to a close. Here again McIntosh and her colleagues – violinist Simone Slattery, violist James Eccles and cellist James Bush – were in top form in this highly entertaining curtain raiser to a season which culminates in November with a guest appearance by Midori performing Mozart and Haydn concertos.
Next up the AHE adds a French twist with a program of flute quartets by Mozart and Devienne, a quartet by Hyacinthe Jadin dedicated to Haydn, a string quartet version of Haydn’s Symphony No 87 and a Concert by Rameau to finish.