Bavarian-Japanese violinist Midori Seiler is a fixture of the Historically Informed Performance scene in Europe, with long tenures as concertmaster for the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin and Anima Eterna Brugge, and a formidable discography that spans solo Bach to Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons with Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Haydn concertos with Concerto Köln, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade with Jos van Immerseel and Anima Eterna. For the Australian Haydn Ensemble and Artistic Director Skye McIntosh to bring her out here for her Australian debut, leading the group’s final tour for 2019, was therefore something of a coup – and with a name reminiscent of a summer cocktail, it was a refreshing treat for Sydney’s early music connoisseurs.
Midori Seiler. Photo © Maike Helbig
An expanded Australian Haydn Ensemble – some 20 musicians – flourished under Seiler’s direction on the stage of the Sydney Conservatorium of Music’s Verbrugghen Hall, performing music by the two pillars of the Classical period, opening with an effervescent account of Mozart’s Symphony No 33, K.319 and closing with the ‘Sturm und Drang’ drama of Haydn’s Symphony No 80, Hob. 1:80.
Mozart wrote his K.319 Symphony in B Flat Major, for oboes, bassoons, horns and strings, in 1779 as he languished unhappily in the court of Salzburg – but it’s nonetheless sunny music. Seiler drew a warm, well-balanced sound and plenty of character from the ensemble in the opening, with clean violin lines in the Andante moderato – which also featured some beautiful flashes of counterpoint from the winds. The Finale (Mozart only added the third movement Minuet and Trio later, for a performance in Vienna) had a feverish intensity.
Haydn wrote his Violin Concerto No 1, Hob. VIIa/1, for Luigi Tomasini – the composer entering it into his catalogue under the year 1765 – during the early years of his long (and relatively happy) service to the Esterházy family. Against robust strings, Seiler revealed a singing high register and biting low, delivering elegantly shaped phrases and assured virtuosity. She brought a pure sound, with plenty of heat at its core, to the soulful melodies of the Adagio, over the orchestra’s pizzicati – not to mention a spacious, thoughtful cadenza – before dispatching a sparkling finale.
Returning to Mozart – and again, his tenure in the Salzburg court – Seiler kicked off the concert’s second half with the second of the composer’s five Violin Concertos, K.211, duetting playfully with the ensemble in the opening solo. She brought brilliance and flair to the first movement, while the aria-like Andante was more tender. If the opening ensemble entry of the concerto’s central movement was a touch ragged, it was a rare blemish in a performance that saw the AHE in excellent form. Along with Seiler, they delivered a finale full of brightness and verve.
In contrast to the bubbling final movement of the Mozart, Haydn’s Symphony No. 80 opened with dark and stormy power – but the menacing figures were soon chased by humorous asides, coloured beautifully here by the winds, Melissa Farrow joining the section on flute. Seiler drew a wonderfully rich, expressive sound from the ensemble in the elegant Adagio, while the dramatic Menuetto – lower strings pumping – sat alongside a cheerier Trio limned by flute and oboe (Ingo Müller). The Finale, beginning with small instrumental groups before it erupts into flurrying energy, brought this taut performance to an exciting close.
With spirited, consummate performances, this was a brilliant end to the Australian Haydn Ensemble’s year – Midori & Mozart proved an intoxicating cocktail indeed.