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SEEN AND HEARD  UK CONCERT REVIEW
 

The Southampton Haydathon - All 104 Haydn symphonies in three days:  Various orchestras and conductors, Turner Sims Concert Hall, University of Southampton, UK. 13-15.3.2009 (PCW)

Haydn – Symphonies Nos. 1-104





The idea of playing all the Haydn symphonies in one event to mark the bicentenary of his death and to raise money for Comic Relief (a national fund raising event for charities at home and abroad and held every two years in the UK. Ed)  was the brainchild of Craig Lawton and Tom Horn. Apparently it originated late one night in an undisclosed watering hole in Southampton about 2 years ago. It is not yet clear how much money has been raised but they and a very committed group of musicians and fixers did achieve their musical objective. And, having been to some of the sessions, I have no doubt Haydn would have approved.

The generally used ordering of Haydn’s symphonies by Mandyczewski is now known to be highly approximate in places. Although they started with “No. 1”, the organisers wisely ignored the ordering altogether mainly for practical reasons relating to orchestration. In between two formal concerts on each day involving established orchestras – the Southampton University Symphony Orchestra, Winchester Chamber Orchestra, Southampton University Sinfonietta and Per Piacere – the “Haydathon” orchestra filled in the gaps in open sessions. This was a “sign-up” band with players coming and going as and when they were able to.

In the open session I attended on the Saturday morning there were about twenty musicians present and one or two hiccoughs occurred. First, it emerged that the music for only the slow movement of Symphony No. 35 was available. Almost incredibly, someone in the audience (of about ten) had a complete score of the work and from that a makeshift set of parts was made of the other movements whilst the rest of the programme was being performed. Later, a lady conductor arrived (with the only score of it) just after the Mercury symphony had been performed, Craig Lawton having had to direct it using a spare part. His response was “Never mind – you can conduct the next one (No. 46) at sight” and she did! Eventually, Craig conducted more works than he was able to keep count of (at least 50) and he also interjected on the harpsichord from time to time. In cricketing parlance he would be described as a left-handed all rounder.

If in the open sessions it was a question of “getting through”, the final concert was something else indeed. On the face of it, a concert of ten Haydn symphonies performed by an orchestra that have never met, let alone rehearsed, might sound unappealing. But conductor Robin Browning, who led six of the works,  had gathered together from far and wide a team of about 45 very able musicians with amazing stamina – the “Haydn Farewell Orchestra”. Unsurprisingly, given the lack of rehearsal, there were bits of untidiness here and there but no more – at no stage did the music break down. At 7.30 the orchestra positively launched into the Laudon (No. 69) producing a pleasing sound and setting the tone for the evening – brisk, committed and appropriately humorous performances. Needless to say there were no repeats!

The programme then took us to Paris (No. 84) before going back in time to Nos. 48 (Maria Theresia), 42 and 50. After a brief interval came the funniest of them all - No. 60 (Il Distratto). By now it was ten o’clock and Paul Ingram turned up fresh from conducting at lunchtime and rehearsing elsewhere all evening to direct No. 70. It was then back to Robin Browning for The Bear – a real highlight – and No. 75. The final work (No. 45) was left to Craig Lawton. The orchestra still had plenty of attack for the first movement but finally, during the last movement some had had enough and they (and then Craig) wandered off the stage to leave the two leading violins to finish the marathon (sorry, Haydathon). Most of the audience had survived and gave the returning players a rousing reception. They were then robbed of all their pecuniary assets before being allowed to say “Farewell”.

Patrick C Waller


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