by Stephen Brophy
“What can one say about Beethoven’s ‘three Gs and an E-flat’ that someone hasn’t said?” So exclaims guest conductor Richard Egarr in the program notes to the Handel & Haydn Society’s latest concert, which culminated in the mighty 5th Symphony, after visiting Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni and two works by Haydn. What Egarr had to say was communicated through his leadership of the orchestra, which evoked an enthusiastic ovation from its audience.
Egarr is the Music Director of the Academy of Ancient Music, founded by former H&H Music Director Christopher Hogwood; he is also an accomplished keyboard master, which was demonstrated by his performance of a Haydn keyboard concerto after the intermission. He opined that Haydn might have been ‘tipping his chapeau’ to the younger Mozart, who had composed 10 or 11 of his wonderful piano concerti in the two years preceding the Haydn work.
What he didn’t need to point out was the intimate relationship of the concerto to the Haydn symphony which had brought the evening to its first intermission – his 101st, in D, known as “The Clock.” The composer obviously borrowed phrases from the concerto when putting his symphony together, but allowed them to develop in surprisingly different ways. If the earlier work, Keyboard Concerto No. 11 in D, Hob. XVIII is a genuflection to Mozart, the late symphony is all Haydn in its humor and precision.
As each of the first two works of the evening got underway – the Don Giovanni Overture and the “Clock” Symphony – I feared that Egarr was driving the orchestra a little to speedily. This might be nothing more than being used to the works from recordings and not having these performances match my expectations. In both cases I was basically satisfied when the pieces reached their conclusions. Given the similarity of the Overture to the first movement of Beethoven’s symphony, with powerfully emphatic themes setting up tensions with quieter themes, I worried that the speed of the delivery might cloud that contrast. While that seemed to happen in the first minutes of the Overture, it was definitely not a problem when we got around to the climactic work of the evening.
What can I say about that? I had the great pleasure of being in the company of a friend who was hearing the Fifth Symphony for the first time. His enthusiasm for the music as we were leaving Symphony Hall underscored for me what classical music can do that no other art form really can – stir us up to great heights of complex emotion one moment while calming us into contemplative clarity the next. Bravo to Richard Egarr for showing this to me again, and to the Handel and Haydn Society for bringing him back to Boston!