Sunday, March 12, 2006

Handel & Haydn Triumphs Again!!

What a phenomenal season this has been. What gems we have in Boston, between the Boston Early Music Festival, Boston Baroque, Handel and Haydn, Boston Camerata, Boston Cecilia, the list goes on ... (No, I don't bother listing the BSO: not that I have anything against them, but my tastes run most decidedly more towards early music than towards the 19th century repertoire that still dominates. I was at dinner with a work colleague and made this pronouncement about preferring to avoid most of the 19th century and when he said with a look of profound dismay on his face, "even Mahler?!" I really couldn't say anything less than "Especially Mahler!")

Tonight's show consisted of two symphonies by Haydn: Symphonies No. 6 and 7, and 8 (Morning and Noon), and two of Mozart's Piano Concertos: No. 9 and No. 24.

I wasn't familiar with the 9, though I knew I would enjoy it. I've never heard a Mozart piano concerto I didn't like.

I do have to admit, however -- accursèd philistine that I am -- that I have really never liked any of the Haydn symphonies I have heard. I never really got the concept of the Classical, pre-Beethoven symphony. I just haven't acquired an ear for them. They simply seem to meandering and pointless -- and long -- to me. This goes for Mozart's as well as Haydn's. Plus there are just way too many. The symphonies of Beethoven and later make more sense to me: even though I still prefer early to later music, I still can appreciate many of the 19th-century masterpieces, and I certainly do love Beethoven.

Frankly, I just like a good tune. I just have a harder feeling the melody of the earlier symphonies. For some reason, baroque and classical period concerti are just easier listening for me, I guess. More of a "pop" sound, maybe. I don't know.

Tonight, however, opened my eyes, or rather my ears, to the delights of Haydn symphonies that I simply had never appreciated before. I could hardly believe how delightful, how transporting, how beautiful it all was. Grant Llewellyn and the H&H orchestra were simply on their absolute best form: they were clearly enjoying themselves and every sound they made was simply a joy to listen to.

Now. As for the Mozart. The soloist was the brilliant and gifted Kristian Bezuidenhout, who wowed everybody's socks off during last year's BEMF season. He's a wonderfully enjoyable performer: a consummate ham on the keyboards with a very infectious manner. He plays a period instrument: a fortepiano which has a very, very different sound from the modern instrument. It has no pedals and at first hearing almost sounds out of tune. Now it does so happen that my ear has become more and more tuned to the sound of most period instruments -- the wind and string instruments; and though my father the snob loves to say that anybody can play even a modern violin to sound like an original instrument "if they just forget everything they learned about tone", I have frankly grown to prefer the cleaner and crisper sound of the period instrument over the modern, which to my ear have begun to seem almost gooey and syrupy by comparison. Gooey and syrupy like most 19th century music is ... But I digress.

I must confess, however, that the first time I heard the period fortepiano at the BEMF, I did find its unfamiliar sound quite distracting. So when Bezuidenhout started on Mozart's 9th with it today, I had still yet to acquire the taste for the period fortepiano. Indeed, I began to fear that this could even be a taste I might never acquire ...

Nonetheless, by the end of the 24th, I was a believer. My God what a sound he can get out of that instrument! What a wonderful concert ... It just left us with a lovely warm glow.


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