musica Dei donum
Festival Early Music Utrecht 2009
Part One Part Two Part Three
Haydn: Die Sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze (version for orchestra) 
Al Ayre Espańol/Eduardo López Banzo
29 August, Jacobikerk
Haydn: Die Sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze (version for keyboard) 
Kristian Bezuidenhout, fortepiano
29 August, Theater Kikker
Haydn: Songs for vocal ensemble and keyboard 
Collegium Vocale Gent/Kristian Bezuidenhout, fortepiano
29 August, Geertekerk
Handel: Opera arrangements for 2 harpsichords 
Le Petit Concert Baroque
29 August, Vredenburg Leeuwenbergh
Handel: 'Handel-Pasticcio' 
Josč Maria Lo Monaco, mezzosoprano
La Sfera Armoniosa Orchestra/Mike Fentross
29 August, St Augustinuskerk
Haydn: Baryton trios
Orpheon Consort/José Vázquez 
Het Nederlands Baryton Trio 
Ricercar Consort 
31 August, Theater Kikker
Handel & Haydn 
Liesbeth Devos, soprano; Barbara Kozelj, contralto; Marcel Beekman, tenor; Giles Underwood, bass
Academy Of Ancient Music/Richard Egarr
31 August, Vredenburg Leidscherijn
The Festival Early Music Utrecht has started last Friday. The programme centres around three composers who get much attention this year: George Frideric Handel (who died 1759), Joseph Haydn (who died 1809) and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (who was born 1809). There are several ways to look at this.
Some people may not consider the latter, and probably also Haydn, as 'early music'. There are even people who don't think Handel is really 'early music', which in their opinion is first and foremost music of the Middle Ages and Renaissance. But today the term 'early music' is mostly used to describe everything which is performed according to the principles of the historical performance practice. Even so, some people are inevitably going to be disappointed with a programme like this year's.
Another matter is whether a festival like this should pay so much attention to three composers who get a lot of attention in the regular concert season. This year I have heard many concerts - live or in radio recordings - with music by Handel, Haydn or Mendelssohn. Shouldn't a festival offer something different? On the other hand, the programmes of the festival bring a lot of repertoire which is hardly known.
In the past the Holland Festival Early Music Utrecht - as it was called then - had something like four or five themes every year. Since a couple of years the festival is 'monothematic', meaning that the bulk of the concerts is devoted to one theme. Last year, for instance, it was music of the Spanish Golden Era. So what do the three 'composers in residence', as one could call them, have in common? The theme is "Three Germans in England" as they have worked in England for some time. But otherwise there is hardly any connection between them. Yes, Haydn was influenced by Handel's oratorios and so was Mendelssohn, but as the latter two are not present with any of their own oratorios this connection isn't really worked out. In addition, most music by Haydn and Mendelssohn which is performed during the festival have nothing to do with their stay in England. And even in the case of Handel we hear some music written before he came to England. From that angle one can hardly call this year's festival 'monothematic'.
It was mostly Handel and Haydn which I heard during the two days that I have attended the festival: the second day (Saturday) and the fourth (Monday). During two days (Saturday and Sunday) the four versions of Die Sieben Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze were performed which gave the audience an opportunity to hear and compare them. The Sieben Worte are not really unknown: during Passiontide in particular the original orchestral version and Haydn's own arrangement for string quartet are performed now and then. In character they don't differ that much as strings play the key role in both of them. The Introduction and the seven sonatas are all written in slow tempi and in particular the long-held notes and the sighing figures are no problem for the strings.
On Saturday Al Ayre Espańol, directed by Eduardo López Banzo  gave a marvellous performance of the orchestral version. It was a very intense and highly expressive interpretation which make it easy to understand why this work made such an impression in Haydn's time. Because of the slow tempi the reverberation of the Jacobikerk wasn't much of a problem. Thanks to a clear articulation even the fast last movement, 'Il terremoto' (the earthquake; presto), came off well and had very much the intended effect.
Kristian Bezuidenhout  gave a performance of the keyboard version. It was not made by Haydn himself, but he has authorised it calling it 'very good'. As Haydn was a keyboard player himself he must have been aware that a keyboard - and at the time this version was published (1787) that very likely was a fortepiano - couldn't create the same effects strings could, because the tone can't sustain as long as the tone of string instruments. But apparently he didn't consider that a problem. So it may surprise a little that Bezuidenhout stated the keyboard version as it was published itn't ideally suited for the fortepiano. He decided to change some passages, and in particular some longer note values were broken up by arpeggios. I am not saying this is against the wishes of the composer: performers have a certain amount of freedom, and arpeggiating long note values can be part of that. But I sometimes felt the dramatic power of this work was lacking as a result of this. Otherwise Kristian Bezuidenhout gave a very fine performance. Only the fortepiano, a Michael Rosenberger of around 1800, is probably a bit too modern for this music.
The arrangement for string quartet and the oratorio version were performed on Sunday and I haven't heard them.
On the same Saturday Kristian Bezuidenhout returned for a late night concert with songs for vocal ensemble and keyboard by Haydn . This repertoire is even less familiar than the Sieben Worte, which can be explained by its character as music for amateurs to be performed in the living room. Haydn seems to have composed them just like that, without much effort. But they still show his skills: they are written very well, and both the serious and the more frivolous texts are set to music to great effect. It was a highly entertaining concert, thanks to the quality of the music and of the performances by the members of the Collegium Vocale Gent, directed from the keyboard by Kristian Bezuidenhout, who also played some keyboard pieces. This concert underlined that Haydn's oeuvre contains many unknown treasures.
The same is true of the large amount of music for the baryton. This was the favourite instrument of Haydn's employer, Nikolaus Esterházy. Most of Haydn's music for this instrument consists of trios for baryton, viola and bc (which here means just the cello) of a generally diverting character. Monday was devoted to this instrument, with a lecture by the Dutch baryton player Freek Borstlap and three concerts.
The first concert was given by the Orpheon Consort , with José Vázquez on the baryton. He owns a large collection of historical string instruments, among them the first 'modern' copy dating from the early 20th century, of a historical baryton. Three trios by Haydn were played in a very engaging and enthralling way, with short and often humorous introductions by Vázquez. The trios were alternated by two Divertimentos for viola da gamba, viola and bc by Anton Lidl (?-before 1789), in which the part of the viola da gamba is quite virtuosic. Vázquez played them brilliantly and the ensemble (with Christa Oprießnig on the viola and Lúcia Krommer on the cello) was immaculate.
Freek Borstlap then played with his ensemble Het Nederlandse Baryton Trio , in which he was joined by Helena van Tongeren (viola) and Jan Insinger (cello). Two trios by Haydn alternated with two pieces for viola da gamba by Carl Friedich Abel (1723-1787) which Freek Borstlap had arranged for baryton, just to demonstrate the instrument in a solo role. Especially interesting was a trio by Luigi Tomasini (1741-1808), who for many years was first violinist and then Konzertmeister in the court orchestra of the Esterházy's. His trio is more dramatic, less diverting than Haydn's. The performances were good, but not very imaginative, sometimes a bit stiff and straightforward.
In comparison the third concert, by the Ricercar Consort , was of a different class. Philippe Pierlot (baryton), François Fernandez (violin, viola) and Rainer Zipperling (cello) gave magnificent performances of three trios by Haydn and a trio by Tomasini. They started off with three fugues from Bach's Wohltemperirtes Clavier which came off very well with violin, baryton and cello. Then another trio by Tomasini was performed, this time with violin rather than viola. It is quite a dramatic piece, in particular the opening allegro molto. The three trios by Haydn which were then played are very different in character. Their diverting nature didn't withhold Haydn from including a 'fuga a 3 soggetti in contrappunto doppio' (Trio No 101 in C).
These three concerts hopefully will have expelled the prejudice that Haydn's music for baryton has to be rather shallow and superficial being written for the entertainment of a prince. Haydn's music never is superficial as these concerts showed.
Every year a concert is given for the many 'Friends' of the festival. This year the Academy of Ancient Music  was directed by Richard Egarr in a programme which brought together Handel and Haydn. The latter was represented by his Nelson Mass, the former by a concerto grosso and an organ concerto. The performing of this concerto was probably not a very good idea: the organ was very small - much smaller than the organ Handel had at his disposal - and very limited in its disposition. I was sitting pretty close to the platform, and even there the sound of the organ was rather soft. I just wonder how much people further back have heard. The concert started with a very good performance of the Concerto grosso opus 6 No 4. It was followed by Purcell's anthem Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem (Z 46), which was given a good performance by the choir of the Academy of Ancient Music, but a bit spoilt by the vibrato of some singers. Then followed the 8-part anthem Not unto us, O Lord by Christopher Gibbons, which Richard Egarr claimed only he ever performed. It was a most remarkable piece, and obviously ignored for no good reason.
The Nelson Mass was not entirely satisfying. Choir and orchestra were pretty good, but the soloists did't really blend: Marcel Beekman was a bit too loud, and in particular Liesbeth Devos' vibrato too big and too frequent.
This leads to two other concerts which were entirely devoted to Handel. First a 'Handel-Pasticcio'  as it was called. But a concert with arias from operas and some overtures and concerti grossi is not a 'pasticcio' in the historical sense of the word. But as it is a bit strange to declare Handel one of the 'composers in residence' without paying attention to his operas and an opera production is too expensive for this festival this was the alternative. Originally the singer should be the contralto Sonia Prina, but she was indisposed and replaced by the Sicilian mezzosoprano Josč Maria Lo Monaco. I hadn't heard her name before, but she seems to have made an international career. Having heard her I can understand her success. She has a beautiful voice with a wide range, and she showed her ability to sing with much differentiation and expression. At the start of the concert I found her singing a bit too loud and her vibrato too wide and too frequent. But my ears got acquainted to her volume, which she also varied quite nicely, and she also used her vibrato in various ways and with various intensity. Often it was still a bit too much to my taste, but there were many things I was pleased about. Not only was she able to express the various emotions in the arias from Giulio Cesare, Rinaldo, Amadigi di Gaula and Ariodante, she also added tasteful ornaments and didn't fall for the modern fashion to 'recompose' as it were the dacapos. The La Sfera Armoniosa Orchestra played with verve; I was especially pleased by the contributions of the oboes and the bassoon.
This concert took place on Saturday night, and earlier that day I attended a concert by the French sisters Chani and Nadja Lesaulnier, together the ensemble Le Petit Concert Baroque. They presented their own arrangements for two harpsichords of orchestral and vocal works by Handel, extracts from the Water Music and the Fireworks Music and arias from Rinaldo, Susanna, Teseo and Alexander's Feast. The beginning wasn't very promising: the pieces from the Water Music were too thin and not very imaginative, but the arrangements which followed were really nice to listen to, although not everything was really convincing. All in all this concert gave a good impression of what was common practice in the 18th century: the arrangements of popular instrumental and vocal works for keyboard.
Handel: Violin Sonatas 
Riccardo Minasi, violin
Musica Antiqua Roma
1 September, Lutherse Kerk
Handel: Italian Cantatas 
Stefanie True, soprano
Contrasto Armonico/Marco Vitale
2 September, Geertekerk
Purcell, Clarke, Handel: Odes and Motet 
Judith van Wanroij, soprano; Christopher Ainslie, Maarten Engeltjes, alto; Tom Raskin, tenor; Stephen Varcoe, baritone; Giles Underwood, bass
Innsbruck Festival Chorus, B'Rock/Timothy Brown
2 September, Jacobikerk
Handel: Keyboard works 
Gary Cooper, harpsichord
3 September, Doopsgezinde Kerk
Handel: Recorder Sonatas 
Erik Bosgraaf, recorder; Francesco Corti, harpsichord
3 September, Lutherse Kerk
'Concerti grossi': Avison, Bond, Boyce, Geminiani, Handel, Vivaldi 
Holland Baroque Society/Sergio Azzolini, bassoon
3 September, Geertekerk
Before starting my second survey of the festival I have to correct something I wrote in the first part. In my review of the concert by the Academy of Ancient Music, directed by Richard Egarr , I wrote: "Then followed the 8-part anthem Not unto us, O Lord by Orlando Gibbons, which Richard Egarr claimed only he ever performed. That may be true, but his statement that hardly anybody - apart from him - ever performs music by Gibbons is utter nonsense. One gets the impression performing musicians never listen to CDs. I have several discs in my collection which are entirely devoted to Gibbons, and that is only part of what is available."
But the anthem was by Orlando Gibbons' son Christopher. The correct name was given in the booklet, so there is no excuse for my mistake. Richard Egarr was right after all in claiming that almost nobody performs Christopher Gibbons' music - at least not his vocal music; his keyboard music has been recorded.
So, my sincere apologies to Mr Egarr as well as to the readers, and my thanks to those readers who have brought my mistake to my attention.
The second part of my review concentrates on Handel - and a little bit of Purcell. Two concerts were devoted to the chamber music of Handel. Riccardo Minasi and the ensemble Musica Antiqua Roma  played six sonatas for violin and bc, whereas Erik Bosgraaf and Francesco Corti  presented six sonatas for recorder and bc. The authenticity of some violin sonatas is not established, and both artists played some sonatas of which it isn't absolutely clear for what kind of instrument they were written. But all sonatas are considerably theatrical in character, and that should lead to enthralling concerts.
But that wasn't always the case. There was a big difference between the two performances. Interestingly one sonata was played in both concerts: the Sonata in G (HWV 358). The first movement was played by Riccardo Minasi at breakneck speed. I have no problems with fast tempi - sometimes they are wholly appropriate, and musicians in the baroque era were not afraid to amaze their audiences with their virtuosity. But if the speed leads to a complete lack of phrasing and articulation and of dynamic accents, when the music doesn't breathe and speak, and when in addition the violin starts to sound scratchy and the intonation is regularly off the mark, then something is definitely wrong. The concert started with the Sonata in g minor (HWV 364a) whose last movement was played very fast, and all the defects I just described were there. They would regularly return, although things were never as bad as in the two movements I have just mentioned. The slower movements fared better, but even there I sorely missed real expression and feeling. The last two sonatas of the programme were coming off best.
How different was Erik Bosgraaf's performance. Some movements he played very fast, but he still was able to make the music breathe. His phrasing and articulation were completely natural and logical, and although he certainly wasn't short on virtuosity in any way, his impressive technical skills always served a higher goal: to show the expression and the dramatic features of Handel's sonatas. He was very generous in his addition of ornaments, and the variety in the ornamentation was just exemplary. I should not forget to mention the excellent support of Francesco Corti, who was a completely congenial partner on the harpsichord. It was a performance to treasure.
One of the least known aspects of Handel's oeuvre is his keyboard music. Only the eight suites of 1720 are performed and recorded now and then, but otherwise his keyboard works are virtually neglected. It is always said that Handel left very little keyboard music, but that is a bit exaggerated. Problem is that a number of keyboard works are of doubtful authenticity, and that definitely withholds keyboard players from exploring them.
Gary Cooper  made an interesting and largely succesfull attempt to give some idea of Handel's skills on the harpsichord, which by all accounts were astonishing. There is general agreement that his written keyboard works only hint at the way he himself must have played them. The last work of Gary Cooper's programme was a Chaconne with 49 variations. The theme is by Purcell, and according to Cooper it can be considered a kind of tombeau for Purcell. This work was probably the best indication of Handel's style of keyboard playing. Gary Cooper gave an impressive performance which ended a programme of excellent music which is unjustly overlooked. The Suite in B flat (HWV 494) was a bit too moderate, but the Suite No 8 in f minor from the set of 1720 was given a fine performance. Cooper also played a suite of arrangements of instrumental pieces and arias from operas by Handel from the pen of William Babell. It gave a good idea of how popular Handel's music was and how it inspired other composers. It certainly wasn't only virtuosity: the suite contains an arrangement of the aria 'Lascia ch'io pianga', with the tempo indication 'adagio'. It was given a poetic performance by Gary Cooper who also spiced his recital with some interesting information about the programme.
As I wrote in the first part of my review it is impossible to ignore Handel the opera composer. Apart from the concert with arias and instrumental works the performance of three cantatas Handel wrote while staying in Rome can be considered an alternative, as it were, to his operas. Cantatas like those performed by the ensemble Contrasto Armonico  were very close to opera and differ only in scale and in the fact that they were not staged. With his ensemble Marco Vitale is currently recording Handel's Italian cantatas for the Brilliant Classics label. Elsewhere I have reviewed the first recording in that series, which made a very good impression. The concert started with the longest of the three cantatas, Il delirio amoroso. The soloist was Stefanie True, a very young Canadian soprano who only this year finished her studies at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. She also figured on the recording I just referred to. There I was a bit critical about her use of vibrato, but fortunately she kept it much better under control here. She has a beautiful voice and her singing is very stylish. I liked the way she added ornamentation to her part, without any exaggerations or elaborate cadenzas. The solo violin part was very well executed by Joanna Huszcza, and the other obbligato parts were also well played.
After the cantata Ditte, mie piante with basso continuo only, another cantata with strings and wind, Tra le fiamme concluded the programme. Again, it was beautifully sung and played; Heidi Gröger gave a nice account of the viola da gamba part. So, it was a fine concert, but the performances weren't as theatrical as they should be. I found Stefanie True and the ensemble a bit too introverted. More contrasts in tempo and dynamics hadn't been amiss. But Contrasto Armonico is a very good ensemble, and there is every reason to look forward to their upcoming recordings.
Someone - I think it was the former director of the festival, Jan Van den Bossche - stated that Handel's concerti grossi are not often performed. That is very exaggerated: in Britain they certainly are. But it could well be that they are not often played elsewhere, and it is true that I haven't heard them often in concerts I have attended. The Holland Baroque Society  played two of them, and added other music from Handel's time. Geminiani worked in England from 1714 to 1732 and performed together with Handel. It was therefore a logical choice to play some Geminiani as well. The concerto grosso was not specified - no key, no opus number - and considering its length (9 movements) it seems a compilation of a couple of concerti grossi. A bit more information about this had been welcome. The concert ended with a brilliant and virtuosic piece: Geminiani's arrangement of 'La Folia', the last sonata for violin and bc from Corelli's opus 5.
The Holland Baroque Society usually plays under guest directors, and this time it was the Italian bassoonist Sergio Azzolini. This led to the inclusion of two solo concertos for the bassoon, by Vivaldi and the English composer Capel Bond respectively. Bassoon concertos are not often performed, so this was a nice opportunity to hear some, and played by a real virtuoso on the baroque bassoon, who gave splendid performances of the solo parts. He also played the bassoon as part of the basso continuo in the other works on the programme. It is questionable whether it is historically justified to play a bassoon in compositions for strings only. But this didn't diminish my enjoyment of this concert in any way. The Holland Baroque Society gave engaging and theatrical performances, which were in line with my previous experiences with this ensemble (for instance their excellent Muffat disc).
The festival also promised to present "a little bit of Purcell". He didn't figure prominently, and unfortunately I wasn't able to attend the concerts devoted to his music so far. I am going to visit a concert by Harmonie Universelle on Saturday - more about that in my last report from the festival.
One of Purcell's most popular works, the Ode for St Cecilia's Day (Hail, bright Cecilia), was performed in the Jacobikerk, together with a piece Jeremiah Clarke wrote at the occasion of Purcell's death, Come, come along for a dance and a song, and Handel's Caroline Te Deum .
The platform was just big enough for the Innsbruck Festival Chorus and the orchestra B'Rock, which were conducted by Timothy Brown. But there was no space left for the soloists who had to come on and go off during the performance for their sometimes very short solos. This was less than ideal, and so was the scoring of these solo parts. The soloists didn't blend very well and were of various quality. Judith van Wanroij gave good performances, in particular in Clarke. The two altos were different: Maarten Engeltjes made a good impression, but Christopher Ainslie's performance was marred by a nervous vibrato, although 'Tis Nature's voice' (Purcell) was done rather well. The tenor Tom Raskin has a nice voice, but doesn't do very much with it: his singing was too loud, too straightforward and lacked any kind of declamation. As an old hand in the early music scene Stephen Varcoe showed how to sing in a truly declamatory manner. The bass Giles Underwood was alright, but I am surprised how little penetration his voice has (something I already noticed in the concert by the Academy of Ancient Music). The orchestra was playing very well, and the choir was also excellent. But the interpretation as a whole was a bit too rigid: I missed some rhythmic flexibility and variety in dynamics and articulation. Clarke's piece is an interesting and nice piece and certainly worth being performed. Handel's Te Deum was given a good performance which gave the choir ample opportunity to shine.
Haydn: Music for the salon 
Van Swieten Society/Bart van Oort
1 September, Geertekerk
Mendelssohn: Symphonies 4 & 5, Overture Die Hebriden 
Orchestra of the 18th Century/Frans Brüggen
1 September, Vredenburg Leidscherijn
Haydn: String quartets opp. 20,4/64,6/103 
Amsterdam String Quartet
3 September, Vredenburg Leeuwenbergh
Haydn: String quartets opp. 17,2/42/76,5 
London Haydn Quartet
4 September, Vredenburg Leeuwenbergh
Mendelssohn: Music for cello and pianoforte 
Sergei Estomin, cello; Viviana Sofronitzki, fortepiano
4 September, Lutherse Kerk
Mendelssohn; Symphony No 3; Overture Die Hebriden; Die erste Walpurgisnacht 
Laia Cortes Calafell, mezzosoprano; Maximilian Schmitt, tenor; Florian Boesch, baritone; Matthew Brook, bass
Collegium Vocale Gent, Coro dell'Accademia Chigiana, Orchestre des Champs-Elysées/Philippe Herreweghe
4 September, Vredenburg Leidscherijn
Haydn: Songs 
Stephan Van Dyck, tenor; Boyan Vodenitcharov, fortepiano
5 September, Geertekerk
Purcell: Trio Sonatas 
Harmonie Universelle/Florian Deuter
5 September, Pieterskerk
Haydn: Symphonies 97 & 98, Organ Concerto in D (H XVIII,2) 
Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra/Ton Koopman, organ
5 September, Vredenburg Leidscherijn
The third and last part of my report of the festival is mainly concerned with Haydn and Mendelssohn, and - again - a little bit of Purcell.
One of the phenomena of 18th century was the expansion of the role of the bourgeoisie in musical life. It resulted on the one hand in a growing requirement of music which was playable for amateurs, and on the other hand in the emergence of the salon as a meeting point for musicians to present their music. Haydn was one of the composers who wrote music for amateurs, but whose music was also arranged by others to be performed in the salons.
The Van Swieten Society  presented three compositions which reflect these practices. It started with a trio for keyboard, transverse flute and cello. Haydn had written several trios for keyboard with violin and cello, but he also wrote three trios with the transverse flute as the upper voice. The flute was particularly popular among amateurs, which is reflected in the large number of compositions of a diverting nature with flute parts, and these include Haydn's trios. The concert ended with the Symphony No 104 in an arrangement for transverse flute, 2 violins, cello and pianoforte by Johann Peter Salomon, the German-born violinist who in his capacity of impresario had invited Haydn to England. His arrangements reflect the tremendous popularity of the symphonies Haydn composed during his stays in England. In between was one of Haydn's keyboard concertos (in G, H XVIII,4), which are probably not really meant for the living room but rather for the concert hall. It worked well in this performance with one instrument per part, though. More problematic from a historical perspective is the use of a fortepiano rather than the harpsichord for the keyboard part. But Bart van Oort gave a fine performance, and so did the other members of his ensemble: Marion Moonen (transverse flute), Igor Ruhadze and Daria Gorban (violin), Bernadette Verhagen (viola) and Job ter Haar (cello). It was a highly entertaining and captivating concert.
Also music for the salon were the songs Haydn wrote during his stay in England. A number of them were written on texts by Anne Hunter, who was a quite famous poet. Two sets of six songs each were printed unter the title of canzonettas, with a keyboard part which played a really independent role in creating the mood of each song and expressing its content. The Belgian tenor Stephan Van Dyck  sang both sets, with two additional songs, O tuneful voice and The spirit's song. Van Dyck has a beautiful voice and has made many very good recordings of renaissance and baroque music. But I wonder if this is his kind of stuff: a certain amount of monotony crept in as there was too little differentiation between the various songs. I also think Van Dyck's singing is too much baroque in style, whereas the vocal music of the classical era requires a somewhat different way of singing. I have to say that Boyan Vodenitcharov's playing didn't really help as his accompaniment didn't do much to increase the drama of the songs. One could also argue that a fortepiano with German action - a Michael Rosenberg of around 1800 - is not the most suitable instrument for these songs.
The string quartet originally also did belong to the genre of the divertimento. Haydn's early string quartets fit into this tradition, but from his opus 20 onwards he moved away from the diverting character. The string quartet emerged into one of the most important genres of music and with his many contributions to it, often of a quite experimental character, Haydn developed into a kind of route indicator who strongly influenced the likes of Mozart and Beethoven. The London Haydn Quartet  demonstrated the early quartets are more than trifles; they took the second quartet from the opus 17 set seriously and gave an engaging performance. Technically this concert was impressive, and I liked their relaxed but highly concentrated interpretation of this quartet and the quartets opus 42 and opus 76 No 5.
The Amsterdam String Quartet  is technically at the same level, and delivered strongly rhetorical performances of the quartets opus 20 No 4, opus 64 No 6 and opus 103. The gypsy influence in the opus 20 quartet came off well and the quartet added a gypsy flavour to the last movement of the quartet from opus 64 as well.
Ton Koopman conducted his Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra  in Haydn's Symphonies 97 and 98, and he also was the soloist in the Organ Concerto in D (H XVIII,2). Organ concertos are not very often heard on the concert platform, which is understandable as the small organs which are normally used in the basso continuo are too limited in regard of disposition to be suitable to play them. Fortunately Ton Koopman's organ was a little more powerful and colourful than the organ Richard Egarr  used in one of Handel's organ concertos. In fact, Haydn's concerto was the highlight of the concert, in which Ton Koopman showed his skills in ornamentation in the two fast movements. But the adagio was even better as it was played with great sensitivity and much expression. The symphonies were played well, but in my view one cannot overhear the fact that Koopman mostly plays baroque music. I think the tone formation reflects this, in contrast, for instance, to the Orchestra of the 18th Century. Rather odd was the performance of the keyboard solo in the last movement of the Symphony No 98: it was cut down and played on the organ - that must be the first time in history this has been done.
There is a close connection between the Orchestra of the 18th Century  and Haydn: they played several of his symphonies in the fringe of this festival. In the main programme it was rather Mendelssohn which was performed: the Symphonies Nos 4 and 5 as well as the Hebriden overture. Frans Brüggen and his orchestra gave brilliant performances which were very exciting and engaging. The clarity of the sound, the rhythmic suppleness and the strongly rhetorical interpretation were highly impressive. Very beautiful was the way the atmosphere in the overture Die Hebriden was created. In the Reformation symphony in particular the brass got ample opportunities to show their skills.
Philippe Herreweghe conducted the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées  in Mendelssohn's third symphony, again the Hebriden overture and in the cantata Die erste Walpurgisnacht. As much as I love Mendelssohn, I am not sure I love the Mendelssohn of this cantata. The lyrics are pretty dreadful, and the music is much too pompous and much too noisy. I have no doubt that soloists, choir and orchestra gave a very good and stylish performance, but the fact that the singers had to stretch their volume in order to be heard tells something about the volume the orchestra produced. I liked the Symphony No 3 a lot more, which was given a very good interpretation.
Mendelssohn also wrote much chamber music, part of which is not that well-known. His works for cello and pianoforte aren't very numerous and fit on one disc. But for a concert it is just too much: from the programme notes I gathered Sergei Istomin and Viviana Sofronitzki  had planned to play Mendelssohn's complete works for this combination, but in the end they dropped the first sonata. That was a good decision. Although they played quite well, the performance was a bit heavy-hearted, and the joy of living which the Sonata No 2 in B flat, op. 58 is assumed to reflect wasn't really noticeable.
The little bit of Purcell I referred to at the beginning of this part of my report was a concert with sonatas and pavans for two violins and bc by the ensemble Harmonie Universelle . Florian Deuter, Mónica Waisman (violin), Dane Roberts (violone), Michael Dücker (theorbo) and Philippe Grisvard (harpsichord and organ) gave splendid performances of this repertoire which belongs to the best of the 17th century. It is really true what a critic once said, that he had never heard a bad note from Purcell. If there is something to complain about this year's festival, it is that Purcell didn't receive as much attention as he should have. Unfortunately I wasn't able to attend every concert devoted to his music, but Harmonie Universelle really made my day - it was one of the highlights of the festival.
Let me sum up this year's festival. It wasn't really monothematic, as I wrote at the beginning of my first report. Apart from having worked in England for some time, Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn haven't much in common. But in the oeuvre of all three there is still something to discover, and that is one of the merits of this festival. Handel's keyboard works, Haydn's baryton trios and Mendelssohn's cantata Die erste Walpurgisnacht, they are all rather unknown, and deserve the attention they were given.
The general level of performances was pretty high. In fact, the only really bad concert I heard was the performance of Handel's violin sonatas by Riccardo Minasi. The highlights were the Purcell concert by Harmonie Universelle, Haydn's Die sieben Worte by Al Ayre Espańol, Mendelssohn with the Orchestra of the 18th Century and Haydn's baryton trios with the Ricercar Consort. They just had some extra which made them special. But the retiring director of the festival, Jan Van den Bossche, should be a happy about the last festival under his responsibility.
Looking back to what he has realised one has to be thankful for his efforts to bring new life into the festival. The first two years of his regime were not really good in my opinion, but for me 2004 was the turning point with a historic event: the scenic performance of Lully's Le bourgeois gentilhomme by Le Počme Harmonique. The following years have brought us many memorable concerts and I sincerely hope the festival will continue to blossom under the new director, Xavier Vandamme.
Johan van Veen (© 2009)
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