Australian Haydn Ensemble: Haydn’s Bravura @ Utzon Room Sydney Opera House

Soprano Celeste Lazarenko sang Haydn and Mozart.
Soprano Celeste Lazarenko sang Haydn and Mozart.

An energetic and enlightened example of a concert format from the late 18th century was welcomed heartily by the crowd attending HAYDN’S BRAVURA. The collaboration between the artistic director of the Australian Haydn Ensemble (AHE), Skye McIntosh and musical director Erin Helyard was dynamic as they led the ensemble with informed resolve and joyous music making in the Sydney Opera House’s Utzon Room.

In late eighteenth century style, this programme added continuo layers to embellish set standard formats such as the string quartet. Also, the Symphony No 102 by Joseph Haydn was not performed as a whole or even in order. Other music was interspersed between the movements in a ‘mash-up’ style to provide events with even more variety.

This successful and authentic change saw the symphony’s opening movement conclude the concert’s first half, then the Adagio was heard after interval.  Haydn’s tumultuous Scena di Berenice for soprano was wedged between the expressive slow movement and the symphony’s final two movements.

The impact of this symphony did not suffer from such deconstruction, nor was it less powerful when played by reduced forces of six instruments and continuo in an impressive reading of a period arrangement for chamber ensemble. The passion of the playing and the musicians’ synchronised gesturing resonated about the bright acoustic as if a much larger group were playing.

The third movement Menuetto was full of folk character, whilst the opening movement stood alone as an intricate fluid piece. The work’s Presto finale survived an ambitiously brisk tempo choice to dazzle quite seamlessly from strings, Melissa Farrow’s flute and the harpsichord.

To open the concert, the AHE continued this year’s exposure of audiences to the expressive ingenuity of Michael Haydn. The group’s last concert in conjunction with the Choir of St James’ included the younger Haydn’s penetrating Requiem.

This time we heard chamber music from the composer. Michael Haydn’s String Quartet No 6 in C major with added keyboard part was elegant and refined but complex. Challenging changes of mood and contour were always managed effectively. Violinist Skye McIntosh is to be commended for formidable leadership in this and all of the evening’s instrumental tapestries. Her first violin filigree was masterfully rendered.

Embellishments by Erin Helyard at the harpsichord also imbued this quartet and all other works with heightened harmonic and structural colour. As Sydney audiences have seen in the past, Helyard’s command of an ensemble from the keyboard always brings the essence of early music to the crowd with energy, charisma and delicacy.

Soprano Celeste Lazarenko added even more sophistication, variety of performance practice and changing tone colours to this concert with a virtuosic concert aria and scena.

She celebrated all Mozartean vocal lines in Schon lacht der holde Frühling with great stamina as the music unfolded exceptionally smoothly and with great subtlety of nuance.

Inserted between movements of the B flat major symphony was Joseph Haydn’s Scena di Berenice for soprano and ensemble. This dramatic powerhouse piece highlighting the anguish of dealing with a lover’s impending death was an emotional peak in the programme.

This work was performed with very exciting vocal force and acting skill by Lazarenko, which makes one crave her next operatic role. The soprano was supported ably by the expressive yet disciplined ensemble.

HAYDN’S BRAVURA was an entertaining and rewarding historically informed performance event. We witnessed bravura from the ensemble via both Haydn brothers. Vocal fireworks also emerged from Celeste Lazarenko when presenting Mozart and the extended Haydn scena.

The AHE will once more be joined by Erin Helyard and violinist Marc Destrubé in concerts this December. The group’s promising 2016 season has also been launched and is now on sale.