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Haydn – Symphonies for Six: Florilegium (Ashley Solomon (flute), Catherine Martin – Hannah Tibell (violins), Alfonso Leal del Ojo (viola), Jennifer Marsches (cello), Terence Charlston (fortepiano), 14.1.2009 (BBr)

Haydn: Symphony No.94 in G, The Surprise (arranged by Johann Peter Salomon) (1792)
String Quartet in D, op.17/6 (1771)
Flute Trio in G, op.38/2 (1784)
Symphony No.95 in C minor (arranged by Johann Peter Salomon) (1792)

We’re going to be hearing a lot of Haydn this year – and I’m all for it! I’ve long thought that, although we supposedly “know” of Haydn’s achievement, his true and magnificent light has always been hidden under Mozart’s genius appellation bushel. Well, no more. If nothing else, I hope that this year will make everybody realise the true stature of this great composer. He may not have created the Symphony, as we know it, but his work, together with Mozart’s achievement, formed the work as the true form of musical expression – a piece of music, full of argument and development which exists purely for itself without outside influence. Over the years it has been mauled, pulled about, shot at and battered with a large stick but it’s always the purely instrumental, non programmatic, Symphony which most composers aspire to – with the exception of the French.

What made tonight all the more fascinating was that we heard two of Haydn’s finest Symphonic works as if through the wrong end of a telescope, in arrangements by Salomon, whom we must thank for the creation of his last twelve, and greatest, works, for flute, string quartet and fortepiano.

Salomon’s arrangements are very fine indeed, for although he condenses the orchestration he allows the music to retain its distinction and power. Florilegium gave performances of brilliance, and not once in their interpretations was there even the slightest hint of chamber music. These were large scale performances – and we were even given the first movement exposition repeats. Joy upon joy! The 94th is well enough known, but No.95 is a bit of a conundrum. The opening theme could have come straight out of one of the Sturm und Drang works, it’s an agitated, excitable idea, yet the ensuing music is typical of Haydn’s late style. The slow movement is a fun packed set of variations and the minuet returns with a heavy reliance on the feeling of the Sturm und Drang era, but not the trio!! The finale is a hoot from beginning to end. Fabulous stuff, and the players conveyed their enjoyment to the audience so easily that a good time was most certainly had by all.

Between the large scale works were two gems. The Quartet is little known, but possibly unlike the Symphonies, there cannot be many who really know Haydn’s earliest works for this combination of instruments. Florilegium made a most persuasive case for this work. There’s nothing profound here, which is what made it such a good foil for the 94th Symphony, but it’s a super piece and could help win many fans for the string quartet repertoire of this period being easy in voice and gesture.

What came as a real shock to me was the Flute Trio, which contained two high spirited movements enclosing a slow movement of great seriousness packed with deep emotion. This was, for me, the musical high point of the evening.

Apart from an almost inaudible fortepiano these were well thought out and finely executed interpretations and, good news for all, BBC Radio 3 recorded the show so we can all hear it and celebrate the great man. Florilegium is giving two more Haydn shows at the Wigmore Hall and I can hardly wait until June for the next one.

Bob Briggs

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