Friday, 19 June 2015

Spitalfields Festival: Polyphony/CLS/Layton - Haydn, J.C. Bach, Mozart, and Handel, 16 June 2015

St Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch

Haydn – Symphony no.101 in D major, ‘The Clock’
J.C. Bach – Sinfonia concertante in E-flat major, WC 41
Mozart – Symphony no.4 in D major, KV 19
Handel – ‘Dettingen’ Te Deum, HWV 263

Ashley Riches (baritone)
City of London Sinfonia
Stephen Layton (conductor) 

This final Spitalfields Festival concert promised a taste of ‘Georgian London – Global Metropolis’, each of the works being written for eighteenth-century London (well, perhaps in the case of the Mozart symphony), although at different times. There was much to enjoy, even if, as a whole, the programme worked somewhat awkwardly. I could not help but wonder if Stephen Layton would have been better off programming another choral work, and losing one or two of the orchestral pieces, since his strengths undoubtedly lie in the former realm.

For that reason, the greatest work on the programme, Haydn’s Symphony no.101, fared least well. The first movement’s introduction had an air of mystery, albeit with decidedly low vibrato: that, despite an acoustic that ought to have alleviated the worst of ‘authenticke’ excess. That acoustic rendered the Presto exposition proper too much of a scramble, fine detail too often lost. There was little in the way of sonata form dynamism. Perhaps surprisingly, the slow movement fared better: characterful, with meaningfully darker passages well integrated. The minuet, alas, failed to smile, and its trio failed even slightly to relax. Still, the nature of the material and many of its implications were clear. The finale was certainly fast yet somehow remained ponderous; like so much of what we had heard previously, it lacked the life that great Haydn conductors such as Jochum, Klemperer, or Davis brought to this music. The City of London Sinfonia’s woodwind proved a euphonious joy throughout.

We do not hear much of Johann Christian Bach’s good-natured if somewhat interchangeable music. Layton presented an affectionate reading of this Sinfonia concertante, in which again the CLS wind proved excellent soloists indeed. The first movement was welcoming in spirit, even before the soloists entered. Shortcomings, such as they were, related more to the work itself. A siren following on from the final note offered amusement. It was a relief not to have the Larghetto taken absurdly fast, as is increasingly the norm in such music. Instead, it seemed imbued with the spirit of the outdoor serenade, even looking forward to Mozart. Much the same could be said of the closing Minuet, stylishly and warmly performed.

I am reasonably sure that this was the first time I had heard Mozart’s Fifth Symphony in concert. Layton and the CLS proved alert in the first movement, possessed of a winning, if small-scale, swagger. A sense of the exploratory was certainly apt. The slow movement might have exuded greater warmth – we felt distant indeed from Böhm and the Vienna Philharmonic – but spoke sensibly enough for itself. Youthful ebullience characterised the finale, although balances were less than ideal. It was difficult, moreover, to discern much affection for the composer and his work in Layton’s merely efficient direction.

No such reservations for Handel’s ‘Dettingen’ Te Deum. Ashley Riches and Polyphony made their mark magnificently, in vocal contributions as incisive as they were sonorous. Georgian militarism – John Brewer’s Sinews of Power – was announced loud and clear, trumpets and choir responding to and inciting one another. Handel’s borrowings amused rather than irritated. An excellent command of rhythm was proportionate with harmonic development. Expectations were aroused and fulfilled. This, at least, proved a thrilling, resoundingly musical conclusion not only to the concert but to the festival as a whole.

No comments: