Devotion to stylish performance-practice is a feature of Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment concerts and it was much in evidence in this programme. A raised eyebrow perhaps at the non-inclusion of harpsichord continuo in Haydn’s Symphony No.49 (the most frequently used modern score edited by H. C. Robbins Landon specifies it) but a bassoon was properly included in the continuo group, underpinning the bass line. The title ‘La passione’ was applied to Haydn’s F-minor symphony more than two decades after its composition; it is usually assumed (but with little evidence) to relate to Eastertide. This account was neatly fashioned with admirable avoidance of any fashionable fading or swelling; instead, dynamics were carefully graded with many strong contrasts but the implicit drama of the music was not a concern of this reading. The horn-players distinguished themselves in their high-lying contribution to the Minuet’s Trio and the strings were outstanding – notably in the Finale at great speed with much delicacy
Mozart’s adventurous writing for horns in high B-flat in the outer movements is an ear-catching feature of his K207 Violin Concerto – a striking sound achieved here with a gentleness entirely suited to Isabelle Faust’s elegance. There was immaculate flow from theme to theme and from solo statement to orchestral response. The occasional pause would be filled by a stylish flourish from Faust and her subtle ornamentations were entirely apt and the cadenzas became part of the music rather than showpieces. Much thoughtful expression was brought to the Adagio and the Finale (Presto) was swept along eagerly yet with no sense of hurry.
It is always a pleasure to hear a C. P. E. Bach Symphony although, surrounded by Concertos, a work scored more fully than this strings-only example might have been expected. It is an intense piece and the OAE’s precision and carefully calculated contrasts between soft and loud enhanced the feeling of darkness; sudden pauses were judged effectively and quiet, rapid sections enhanced the intensity further. As a result the relaxed, understated approach to the Finale was a surprise, but it was compensated for by firm rhythmic impulse.
The high-point of Faust’s interpretation of K219 lay in her superb reading of the lovely Adagio – cool, gentle and beautiful in tone, the music was rendered with touching sensitivity, and the work as a whole was given eloquently, with subtle ornamentation and expressive but never over-phrased drawing of the melodic lines. The Finale was calmly lyrical; the stamping ‘Turkish’ sections avoided undue forcefulness, taking the nature of a lively dance. Faust’s approach to the peaceful conclusion of the Concerto was touching and the equally serene Rondo in C (K373) provided the complementary encore.