By Stephen Brophy
H&H (as the Handel and Haydn Society calls itself at work, according to artistic director Harry Christophers) held its inaugural concert of the 2010-11 season last night in Symphony Hall, and it generally pleased the near-capacity audience that had to endure tropical rainstorm to get there. The program – all Mozart – will be reprised tomorrow, Oct. 3, at 3p.m. in Sanders Theatre just outside Harvard Yard. [wrong - it will be in Symphony Hall.]
The evening got underway with a sprightly rendition of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music) a Serenade that Mozart composed in 1787. This is perhaps the most widely known of all the composer’s works, a fact acknowledged by Christophers in his address to the audience immediately following the piece. He reminded the audience that, as well as they might know the piece, this was perhaps the first time they had heard it with period-appropriate instruments.
Christophers then launched into a laudatory introduction of Rachel Podger, who would be the soloist for the Violin Concerto, #5 – which turned out to be the highlight of the evening. As well as being “a leading interpreter of Baroque and Classical music on period instruments,” Podger has also been a guest director of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, on of the world’s premiere period ensembles.
Podger lived up to Christopher’s praise, and proved to be as witty with her audience as he said she had been in rehearsals. She plays not only with her head, hands, and heart, but also with her expressions and body language. Her direct gaze into the house drew everyone (except one cranky Globe critic) into her own enjoyment of her playing, which culminated in a highly-deserved standing ovation.
After the intermission the orchestra launched into a suite of melodies from Mitridate, one of Mozart’s earliest operatic compositions. This was followed by a satisfying (but not perhaps as rousing as it could have been) rendition of Symphony #38 in D Major, known as the Prague Symphony because it premiered there early in 1787. Even though the composer was not quite 31 when he wrote this, it is considered one of his mature works (he had fewer than five years still left to live). The H&H performance showed off its architecture very nicely, but did not cause me to feel the surges of emotion that I usually get with favorite parts of the three movements. But I didn’t mind because I still had the memory of the great Violin Concerto playing in my head.
H&H has big plans for the coming year, including a return visit from local piano virtuoso Robert Levin (doing Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto) 2 of Bach’s Brandenberg Concerti, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, an all-choral a capella program called “Harry’s Vocal Voyage,” and a return to Mozart with his sublime Requiem. For more information about the Sander’s Theatre performance of this all-Mozart concert or the rest of the season, please visit the Handel and Haydn Society website.
The image, Mozart circa 1780, by Johann Nepomuk della Croce, comes from Wikimedia Commons.