A rare pleasure to hear two Haydn symphonies in an evening: rarer still to be able to repeat the experience at the next day’s matinee concert.
It was also a valuable listening exercise. Not that the performances of No.101 (The Clock) and No.102 differed from one day to the next, no reason they should. However, a second hearing provided an opportunity to appreciate the CBSO’s assured playing and Andris Nelsons’ occasionally revelatory conducting. On first hearing them it appeared that Nelsons, unlike Sir Simon Rattle, is not an instinctive Haydn conductor.
For example, the dynamic extremes he brought to 101’s opening movement and the sudden forceful accents, applied with a jab from Nelsons’ baton, seemed too calculated, an instance of conducting micro-management: nuance of the sake of nuance. A second hearing revealed that this was not the case: the subtleties are all Haydn’s and Nelsons was happy to reveal their wonders with the illumination provided by playing of wit and delicacy from the CBSO.
The switch from minor key foreboding to D major sunlight was done with dazzling sleight of hand and the andante’s tick-tock transformations were delightful. Contrast was high because the darker hues were always given their due as in 102’s sombre adagio, led by Eduardo Vassallo’s soulful cello.
Orchestral members also became soloists in three contrasting concertos. Rainer Gibbons played Mozart’s oboe concerto at both concerts. The second performance was marginally better perhaps because Gibbons was more at ease (far less brow mopping) and a fluff in the finale first time round was eliminated.
This was sparkling stuff from Gibbons right from the infectious allegro to the rondo’s perky soubrettish trilling. To those of a certain age the solo tuba is synonymous with the theme of Hancock’s Half Hour. In his tuba concerto Vaughan Williams wanted to show the instrument’s lyric potential and Graham Sibley spun some flowing legato lines and negotiated the finale’s amazingly tricky cadenza with skill.
The tuba’s comic persona was not forgotten – an almighty raspberry early on raised a laugh. A contrabassoon concerto – surely not? But yes, John Woolrich composed an ingenious showcase for the CBSO’s Margaret Cookhorn to whom the work is dedicated.
The opening is brilliant as the music swoops down from shrill high woodwind to the depths of the orchestra and zooms in on the soloist. Cookhorn looked assured and unflappable and clearly enjoyed her “anything-you-can-play-I-can-play-lower” battle with the tuba.