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Ionarts-at-Large: HIP Haydn, Hummel & Mozart with the Vienna Academy Orchestra

I refrain from “complauding™”—my standard response of disgruntled delight when a concert programs a Haydn Symphony as the first piece—when the orchestra in question also has one to conclude the concert. I also refrain, if only barely, if the performance is splendid. That happened the last time in October of 2014, when the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) majorly rocked Haydn G-minor at the Vienna Konzerthaus. It happened again a few nights ago at Vienna’s Musikverein, where the HIP Vienna Academy Orchestra (secretly 30 years old, even if they’re only now appearing on the international radar) did one of their subscription concerts to a full house (the infallible lure of the Musikverein’s Goldener Saal be thanks!). With Haydn in front of them, Haydn in the back of them, Mozart and Hummel in the middle the volley’d and thunder’d away in style.

Just as in the Beethoven Ninth project, a Haydn symphony needn’t be perfect to be good, it just needs to kick posterior. The orchestra with Martin Haselböck in front of them did so entertainingly, excitingly, and lively. And lest anyone think this was of the sloppy rag-tag excitement sort that the Ode to Joy had been, this was also played exactingly if not—perhaps understandably—nearly as precise and accurate as the Australians did, back then.

Of course it’s slightly less surprising to find an original instrument band like the Vienna Academy Orchestra (or the ACO) doing well with Haydn—it’s the big symphonic and philharmonic orchestras that perpetrate the more heinous crimes against this most important of composers… and it’s those who most desperately need to play more of it. Still, we take what we can get, and in this case I took Symphony No.94 in the Goldener Saal of the Musikverein at the sold-out season-opener of that HIP band of Martin Haselböck’s.

available at Amazon
J.Haydn, London Symphonies,
M.Minkowski/ Les Musiciens du Louvre

available at Amazon
Hummel, Haydn, Puccini, Trumpet Concertos for Keyed Trumpet,
R.Friedrich/Vienna Academy Orchestra/M.Haselböck

Under the enthusiastic beat of the organist-cum-conductor-cum-impresario, the players responded with something raw and energetic that had bite, from the gruff strings to the punchy brass. My only quibble about the choice of symphonies would be the picking of two of the London set symphonies which, if Haydn gets played at all, are always the first choice anyway… almost as if Haydn had only composed only 12 symphonies and not 104 (or 107), of which at least two thirds are masterpieces worthy any occasion.

The subsequent oboe concerto was cast with the orchestra’s own oboe player—a popular move for orchestras as this saves money and keeps the locker room spirit high. Emma Black (of the ginger faction), on her 18th century oboe, proved this to be a win-win situation: The Mozart Concerto K.314 was phrased with the utmost grace and feeling. What a pleasure! To nitpick: Black was just a little tightly coiled around her instrument, which might impede from communicating more directly with the audience… an audience which is usually hungry for more—some show—than just great musicking. Perhaps that’s something she could straighten out in the future, a future in which I would love to hear lots more of her solo oboe-playing. Mme. Black displayed a tone so clean and playful and beautiful—much as if Pavarotti had been reincarnated as a goose—that possible betterment, except for the rare glitch and a nervous cadenza, seemed improbable in the moment.

It didn’t seem improbable to Emma Black, though: It’s funny how obviously seasoned soloists and orchestra musicians in solo-performance differ. Not by quality of play—this was far better than one would have any right to expect from whatever famous soloists there are around—but by attitude. If Emma Black plays a note with which she isn’t entirely content, you can immediately see it on her face. “Darnit”, it seems to say, “I could have done this yet so much better.” Or “Gorblimey, this isn’t up to my standards… and now of all times.” If a pro like, say, flutist Emmanuel Pahud, makes a blunder, he does it with confidence, smiles, and eventually takes a bow glowing with pride as though he had just shat solid gold. Then again, I’ve never heard Pahud play as satisfactory as Black, and wouldn’t take posture over pleasure.

After intermission the next concerto: This time with Reinhold Friedrich as the soloist, which at first made me think that either time travel or necromancy had been involved, because he seemed such an omnipresent when I was a wee lad and I just thoughtlessly assumed him a figure of the distant past. It turns out that: He’s perfectly alive and kicking. And Yes, he’s been around for a while. Yes, he’s recorded very prolifically. And No, he’s not that old, actually. Also, I conflated him with Ludwig Güttler. (If you bought randomly a trumpet concerto in the 90s in a German-speaking country, it was going to be performed by either one of those guys.) Just before the concerto there was a little side-by-side comparison of the baroque trumpet and an instrument that looked like the murder weapon in a steam-punk novel: the classical-era keyed trumpet… a replica of the very first such instrument for which the Hummel- (and the Haydn-) concerto was written and which enabled the instrument for solo-duty in the first place. This showed that, at least in theory, the keyed trumpet can do many more things, musically, than its predecessor.

Unfortunately it’s almost criminally difficult to play and just about impossible to play cleanly throughout a whole one of those concertos written for it. Sunny and radiating joy with and without trumpet, Reinhold Friedrich looked like he would not have minded conducting the orchestra as well as performing his part… the latter of which he did with routine and enthusiasm but a good number of invariable flubs. Sure enough, he beamed away through all of them… part knowing that the instrument has a will of its own that’s not bent his way by frowning, and part professional mien.

Haydn’s last Symphony, No.104, capped the evening with all the qualities that No.94 had displayed, perhaps still a bit more brash, and with wonderful unleashed baroque trumpets (angry at being overshadowed in the previous piece, no doubt) and a whack-lusty timpanist. Some of the musical drama that Haselböck and his crew brought out was so intense, it seemed to have proto-Don Giovanni (in the second movement) and LvB-9th (in the fourth movement) proportions. Most gratifying, indeed.


Gary said...

If you were to do a course entitled "Discovering the two thirds of Haydn symphonies that are masterpieces worthy any occasion," which 10-15 symphonies would you cover first, and which recordings would you use/recommend?

jfl said...

Oh boy... that's a lot of work. But a good idea and I think I'll pick you up on that for a forthcoming column. Maybe even on Thanks for reading and being interested!