There have been many prolific composers, but seldom in the field of classical music has anyone made so much of so little as Joseph Haydn. His way of spinning a rhythmic gesture or a fragmentary theme into a skein of golden invention is second to none, and if the twin genii who followed him hadn’t eclipsed all comers, we might hear more of him in the concert hall.
One group who has embraced Papa Joseph are the Australian Haydn Ensemble, the five-year-old brainchild of Artistic Director and Principal Violinist Skye McIntosh. A discerning ABC Classics have climbed on board for a debut CD, endorsing a group who have built a following for dynamic performance and imaginative programming, chiefly to date in Sydney and Canberra. This recording should carry them to the ears of the rest of the world.
The young ensemble is suitably matched by young man’s music in a charming early symphony, a probably contemporaneous cello concerto and, as a grand finale, a mature work: Haydn’s most popular keyboard concerto – the one with the ear-tickling Gypsy finale.
Daniel Yeadon is the excellent soloist in the First Cello Concerto, one of two superb examples believed lost until miraculously discovered in 1961. Winding up at the Esterházy court in 1761, the 28-year-old Haydn found himself treated to, and able to exploit, a 15-player ensemble as well as fine soloists like the cellist Joseph Weigl. From the concerto’s stately opening, everything about this reading is lean, yet spicy. The work captures the gallantry of court etiquette in the dignified gavotte that forms the slow movement, while Yeadon is meaty-toned yet wonderfully mobile in a lively toe-tapper of a finale.
The Le Matin Symphony was one of a novel trilogy telling the times of day and was famous for its evocation of dawn. It’s beautifully hushed here, swelling gorgeously into a full-bodied Allegro full of delicious, woodwindy bird calls. The ABC engineers ensure you hear every instrument, while the AHE makes sure that blend is never sacrificed. Neal Peres Da Costa’s chamber organ is lovingly shaded in, McIntosh too is magnificent here.
For the D Major Harpsichord Concerto, the ensemble has bagged Australia’s most engaging soloist, Erin Helyard. The pacy, spirited reading sets hearts and pulses racing, and Helyard is stylishness personified, shaping lines with taste and sensitivity. His cheeky dissonances dot the opening Vivace with furtive smiles. His imaginative stopping in the Adagio leads to broader grins in a romp of a Rondo all’Ungarese.
With musical values running cheek by jowl with engineering excellence, one can but hope this debut is part of a multiple-album deal.