The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s Haydn, Mozart & Friends opened with one of the friends: Christian Cannabich was the director of the renowned Mannheim orchestra when Mozart and his mother visited in 1777, and the composers became close. The orchestra was well-known across Europe for the virtuosity of its musicians and its famous full-orchestra ‘Mannheim’ Crescendo – which the Brandenburgs demonstrated with panache in the first movement of Cannabich’s Sinfonia in E Flat Major, led by Paul Dyer. Right from the start, the orchestra bristled with energy, the horns rippling and the bassoons injecting plenty of vigour into a lively account of a work written to show off brilliant wind players. The bassoons were articulate and agile in the Andante. While there were some intonation issues in the clarinets, particularly in the first two movements, the Presto saw them dispatching snappy rhythmic figures with bright panache.
Jamie Hey and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. Photo © Steven Godbee
Very much a friend of the band, period cellist Jamie Hey has been the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s Principal Cellist since 2002. He brought his keen-edged gut-string sound to bear on Haydn’s C Major Cello Concerto – which had been believed lost until it was unearthed in Prague in 1961 – demonstrating a lithe technique and, of course, a natural rapport with the ensemble. The cellist for whom Haydn composed this concerto at the Esterházy Court, Joseph Franz Weigl, was the only cellist in the ensemble, so took the bass part as well as the solos – and while Hey was bolstered by Rob Nairn on the Viennese Violone, he still weaved in and out of the tuttis at will. His first movement cadenza was a highlight, dispatching elegant double stops and shimmying up into the cello’s high register. He brought a honeyed, thoughtful tone to the Adagio while the Finale throbbed with motoring energy, sparks flying. The same energy kept buzzing in his encore, a brisk rendition of the Prelude to Bach’s First Cello Suite.
The winds took centre stage after interval, a selection of movements from Mozart’s Harmoniemusik based on music from Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) a chance to showcase the winds. Motoring bassoons, crisp horns and oboes and clarinets duelling across the ensemble kicked off the Overture, but there were plenty of highlights throughout the movements: velvety bassoon solos from Jane Gower, exquisite oboe solos from Emma Black and a clarinet run from Craig Hill worthy of Gershwin.
Bart Aerbeydt and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. Photo © Steven Godbee
But the highlight of the evening was held for the end. Belgian natural horn virtuoso Bart Aerbeydt, making his debut with the Brandenburgs, joined Dyer on stage for a pre-performance ‘fireside chat’ in which he explained the vagaries of his instrument (essentially just a brass tube with a mouthpiece at one end and flared bell at the other) before launching into Mozart’s K495 Horn Concerto. Harnessing the harmonic series and filling in the harmonic blanks with some technical sleight-of-hand and embouchure, the instrument produces wonderfully contrasting tone colours (from bright and astringent to veiled and distant), which Mozart used to advantage in his writing. In the spacious, resonant City Recital Hall these differences were even more pronounced and at times it sounded almost as if Aerbeydt was duetting with another hornist off stage. There were some magic moments as he duetted with the oboe and his use of colour in his first movement cadenza was particularly fine. The exploration of tone colour continued in the Romance, Aerbeydt sliding silkily between notes, before the boisterous finale – a lively nod to the instrument’s origins as a hunting instrument – capped off a fine evening of music.
The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra’s Haydn, Mozart & Friends is at City Recital Hall, Sydney, until September 23.