City Recital Hall, Angel Place, Sydney: 25 July, 2012
plays in Melbourne on 29 July at 5 PM, and in Sydney on 1 and 3 August at 7 PM and 4 August at 2 PM and 7PM.
A concert recording is to be broadcast on ABC Classic FM on 31 July 1PM (Australian Eastern Standard Time).
The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra
Paul Dyer – Artistic Director and fortepiano
Gabriele Cassone – keyed trumpets
Haydn – Symphony no. 94 in G major “Surprise”
Haydn – Trumpet concerto in E flat major Hob VIIe:1
Gluck – Larghetto and Allegro ma non Troppo from the ballet Don Juan Wq. 52
Hummel -Trumpet concerto in E major S 49, WoO 1
The first three programs of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra this year have made a nice historical progression from the late Baroque of Vivaldi, to that of central Europe and England with Bach, Zelenka and Handel, now to the late classical period. The fortepiano has come out to replace the harpsichord and the orchestra grown with thicker string sections and clarinets to bring us Haydn and the Italian trumpet virtuoso Gabriele Cassone. For the Haydn G major Symphony, the so-called “Surprise,” Paul Dyer conducts from behind the fortepiano bench, and lays chords oftentimes too while using his body and shoulders to conduct. Though we can catch at times some of the period reproduction fortepiano’s beautiful sonorities, it is too large a hall really to do it justice and often it gets swallowed in the orchestra, but no matter, that is not its purpose here, though it does make a slight difference in color. What is important is that with the larger (late) classical orchestra, the conductor is necessary and conductorly music-making is readily audible here. With more dynamic possibilities from the backed-up strings, and timpani, and opportunities to use them thanks to Haydn (not to mention Gluck!) — and Maestro Dyer (though he never gives himself the label “conductor”) does know how to use it — the orchestra adapts naturally and readily to the new-sounding late 18th century palate. The strings have more solidity, they are still clear, very precise, with guest concertmaster Madeleine Easton leading them with her beautiful playing, but with more structure, polished but with a fine texture by virtue of the gut strings and the varied shapes and sizes of the violins. The orchestra is set up with cellos on the left next to the first violins, and basses, violas and second violins on the right, horns on the back left, trumpets (natural baroque ones) on the back right with the woodwinds in between.
With something looking like what we now think of as a symphony orchestra, and somewhat baroque dynamics of the Haydn symphony and a program well-suited to the ABO’s style, it is easy to hear what Nikolaus Harnoncourt meant when he said Schubert carried on from Haydn’s prolific and wonderful contribution to the symphony. Haydn’s vivid melodic sense — his melodies are fitting and extremely endearing without ever being the sort to get stuck in your head — finds a natural sympathetic expression in the bright energetic approach of Paul Dyer and the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra. The very loud tympani strikes, though, didn’t really even dominate because of their distinct timbre which which refuses to blend into or cover up the orchestra at the loudest outbursts, and something similar happens with the naturally tuned spiky trumpets and horns, though the latter tend to mix more. Hearing familiar music like this played on its intended instruments surprises one (no pun intended) by showing important details which aren’t apparent in the usual late romantic orchestra.
For the trumpet concerto, Haydn’s last (composed 1796, first performed 1800), the melodic sense of the orchestra found a sympathetic partner in Gabriele Cassone. He plays the rare keyed trumpet, for which the piece was in fact originally written, an E flat, five-keyed variety, as opposed to the modern piston trumpet. It is held horizontally and played with the fingers, in coordination with the lips, embouchure and diaphragm to pick out the tubings’ various overtones, to cobble together a chromatic scale, at least one much closer to a chromatic scale than a natural baroque trumpet’s. It also has an extended range over its predecessor and a more human, vocal timbre than either the baroque trumpet or the more piercing modern trumpet, or even the modern cornet. This makes it particularly well suited to concerto playing, as it can play on equal terms with the orchestra, blending in somewhat or sitting into or raising itself above the others. It is even able to play a mellow duet in a sensible way with the flute, and a classical wooden flute at that. It is well suited to this concerto in particular, as one can hear immediately, that it is more responsive, the interactions between the orchestra and soloist make more sense and so too the general form of the piece, lending support to Harnoncourt’s principle that compositions suit themselves naturally to the available instruments of their time, but also one might say certain interpretations lend themselves better to a certain period’s instruments. The very first theme has a (keyed) trumpet character, though the orchestra introduces it. When the trumpet returns it, it immediately finds a home, a sort of formal repose, a resolution, even as the music moves on with a strong current.
The Hummel concerto is the longer piece and in that way more satisfying since Haydn’s draws in the listener with the instruments’ very human interactions in a moving way, and so seems to leave one thirsty for more Haydn. Trills are very much possible on this trumpet, either using the keys or the breath (more of a tremolo-trill), it really has its own menagerie of new and wonderful ornaments, and the those Cassone manages to play seem unlikely, yet there they are for your ears to witness. Hummell’s concerto, which like Haydn’s was written for Anton Weidinger of the Vienna court orchestra and his new keyed trumpet, was first performed in 1804, here a six-keyed trumpet is used, and it has even more unlikely ornamentation (as the interesting program note point out, Weidinger had another four years to perfect his technique). Hummel’s tempo structure is a bit more varied from the allegro-andante-allegro of Haydn’s, with its opening allegro con spirito, then andante, then a rondo which gets quite wild, which gives the piece its unpredictability and the extraordinary forward momentum to its pulse even while it ranges about somewhat from the straight line, taking advantage of the harmonic possibilities of the keyed trumpet. Cassone’s cadenzas build up according to the usual custom and are very expressive in themselves, also very interesting for their restrained modern flavor. Cassone has written a book on the trumpet 1 covering technique as well as history from ancient times to Stockhausen and Jazz and his repertoire includes the modern avant-garde and contemporary music (recorded samples are available from his website). He would seem to be gifted with the intellectual curiosity and academic skill for not only well-informed historical performance but also to justify his decisions to his audience, though I haven’t had the chance to read his book. As an encore, he played Verdi’s very rare “Adagio for alto trumpet in D and orchestra.” A youthful piece, (apparently the keyed trumpet though made “obsolete” in most of Europe by the brighter piston one, hung on in Italy until the mid 19th century) it gives a fascinating insight into the composer. The vocal qualities and easy cantabile of this kind of trumpet suits the composer’s style very well, also with its broad range and dextrous virtuosic and ornamental capabilities.
As a dark, minor key, dramatic interlude, the Orchestra played the Larghetto-Allegro ma no troppo from the climax of Gluck’s music for the ballet Don Juan ou Le Festin de Pierre. It is famous as a pivotal ballet in history, often considered the first “ballet d’action” or “pantomime tragique” coming at a time when ballet often consisted of arbitrary divertissements tacked together or a mere interlude or postlude in an opera. Gasparo Angiolini choreographed it to première in Vienna in 1761, the year after his French counterpart and rival Jean-George Noverre wrote his famous Lettres sur Danse et sur les Ballets. Noverre wasn’t to put his call for reform into practice until sometime later, so Angiolini beat him to it in a way with Don Juan, even though history better remembers Noverre and his theories of the ballet d’action. Don Juan was very popular in its day, being reproduced several times until the century turned, the original choreography was thereafter forgotten, but the music was taken up again and re-choreographed many times in the 20th century by Laban, Fokine, Massine and others. Noverre and Angiolini disputed many of the finer (and some of the coarser) points of reform, Angiolini for example wanted no synopses in his programs because his variety of danced mime and the music told the story sufficiently, so instead he issued manifestos in his programs. But both called for a return to true drama (in the ancient sense as they understood it) with natural choreography which expressed the characters, the music providing the missing “words” by leading the audience through the story but in such a way that the choreography and music were tied up very closely. So Gluck is said to have worked very closely with Angiolini in composing this music. 2 One can sense this immediately from Gluck’s very moody and vivid composing which is done justice by Paul Dyers sense of the dramatic and his and the orchestra’s powerful, energetic playing, even when turned in on itself in the Larghetto; the hellfire of the allegro ma mon troppo too was played in a way that was not overly obvious. Gluck’s ballet music here predates slightly his Orpheus and Eurydice opera, though there is some crossover. A trombone features heavily, and is played here quite forcefully, but tends to hang independently above the orchestra because of the shrill, foreign quality of its tone, while still sounding fairly supernatural. Mozart and da Ponte are thought to have been influenced by this ballet when the were working out the libretto for their Don Giovanni because the scenes are so similar (N. B. both are after Molière’s play), and perhaps Gluck had some influence on Mozart’s orchestration too in the unique way of tone painting with trombones as the Don is dragged down to hell, though Mozart’s “brushstrokes” seem more subtle and insinuating. The playing is so vivid one does not need any help with a mental image or even a visual image, but it would be wonderful to see the ballet put on sometime here.
- La Tromba (in Italian) or The Trumpet Book (English), both published by Zecchini. ↩
- For the history see, for example, Irene Brandenburg’s Early Dance Circle Lecture 2012 “Dance in eighteenth century opera: Gluck, Mozart and Idomeneo,” http://www.earlydancecircle.co.uk or Arianna Fabbricatore’s 2012 dissertation “Sémiramis, ballet pantomime tragique : l’écriture chorégraphique de la tragédie et la construction théorique d’un nouveau genre théâtral.” http://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/68/79/40/PDF/SA_miramis.DEF.pdf. (Accessed 29 July 2012). ↩