★★★★☆ Sydney ensemble round off a stunning season with plenty of Sturm und Drang.
Utzon Room, Sydney Opera House
December 18, 2016
“A musician cannot move others unless he too is moved. He must of necessity feel all of the effects that he hopes to arouse in his audience, for the revealing of his own humour will stimulate a like humour in the listener.” – CPE Bach
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach would have been well pleased that his famous dictum was lived up to so completely when the 20 musicians of the Australian Haydn Ensemble put the seal on a momentous season under dynamic young guest conductor and harpsichordist Erin Helyard.
He would also have been delighted with the choice of programme – three of his works which led Mozart to declare him “the father of us all” and a Haydn symphony to round the afternoon off.
It has been a landmark year for the AHE with a fine CD debut for ABC Classics, a new chairman of the board and patron in former NSW Governor Dame Marie Bashir and their first concert in a sold out City Recital Hall.
But it was back to their home ground, the Utzon Room at Sydney Opera House, for the close of their sixth season since they were established in 2011 under artistic director Skye McIntosh.
Helyard, who is Artistic Director and Co-Founder of Pinchgut Opera and the Orchestra of the Antipodes, got things off to a lively start with CPE Bach’s short and action-packed Sinfonia WQ 178 in E minor, as good an introduction to this composer as you can get with its swift and unpredictable mood swings, eccentric rhythms and adventurous harmonies.
For this work doubled flutes and oboes, bassoon and the two natural horns of Darryl Poulsen and Doree Dixon, with Helyard directing from the keyboard, augmented the strings.
After this heart-starter Melissa Farrow’s boxwood “Blondie” flute featured in her third solo spot with the AHE, performing Bach’s delightful Flute Concerto WQ 22 in D minor. This was a bit of a reunion for Farrow and Helyard as they had collaborated on this work as students at Sydney Conservatorium.
After the wild leaping runs of the allegro first movement, and the gorgeous lyricism of the singing Andante, it is the third movement which is the true Sturm und Drang element of this work, all darting strings and driving rhythms, handled superbly and with remarkable breath control by Farrow.
One of the violinists ate a well-deserved half-time banana to restore some energy to his bowing arm.
After interval it was the turn of Helyard to take the solo spotlight for the first of six harpsichord concertos Bach composed in his Berlin years. The instrument was turned round so Helyard faced the audience. We couldn’t see his hands but we were able to follow his eloquent facial expressions and gestures as he led the orchestra, concentrated on the intricate solo work and managed to turn the pages all in one seamless gesture.
This is another work that shows the magnificent unpredictability of Bach, who even dares to stop the music in the slow movement, giving us a few beats of silence.
Helyard’s performance was a perfect complement to his reading of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 14 in the Angel Place concert in July.
Haydn’s Passion Symphony No 49 is a dark work by that composer’s standards with an opening movement much in the spirit of his Seven Last Words of Christ.
Helyard never let its weighty opening movement drag, being alive to its every nuance and keeping a tight control of dynamic, allowing the music to build to its magnificent and vivid climax in the final movement.