H & H's "Mozart & Haydn": The Shock of Recognition

Aisslinn Nosky and the Handel & Haydn Society Orchestra
(photo: Kat Waterman)

This weekend's performances by Boston's Handel and Haydn Society are aptly titled Mozart and Haydn, as they are just that, a program devoted to the two composers, with a concerto by Mozart bookended by works of Haydn. It was an appropriate choice on the occasion of Mozart's birthday, which was noted by concertmaster Aisslinn Nosky in pre-performance remarks, after entering the hallowed walls of Symphony Hall attired in a brightly colored period waistcoat to complement her shock of red hair so familiar to the company's avid following. It was an indication of the excitement to come, first with Artistic Director Harry Christophers' crisp conducting of Haydn's Symphony #26 (Lamentatione), later his very brief Overture in D minor and Symphony #86. In between, Nosky led the thirty-five piece orchestra in Mozart's Violin Concerto #3 in G major as she displayed her supremely virtuosic violin skills.

This company, the oldest continuously performing classical music ensemble in the United States, has been providing superb offerings since its inception in 1815, just over two centuries ago. This program was no exception. With the strings standing, as was often the custom in the eighteenth century, throughout the almost two hour performance, Christophers conducted the Lamentatione with the precision one has come to expect, highlighting the classical pattern of establishing an idea, then moving away from it, ultimately returning to it, revealing the basic principle that came to guide typical classical movements. It reflected the Holy Week chants with their tune from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, from its opening drama to the countermelody between oboe and violin, to the somber minuet with its odd and unexpected emphasis of the last of triple meters. It was a thoroughly apt introduction to the central piece of the evening, the Mozart concerto.

The Violin Concerto #3 in G major is a showpiece for any able violinist, but became a truly mezmerizing one in the hands of Nosky. The audience, already quite familiar with the extraordinary physicality in her role of concertmaster, was wowed by her simultaneous playing and leading of the orchestra by means of her body language and obvious delight in the piece. Nosky has become a true superstar indispensable with her growing recognition as a force of nature with which to be reckoned, for a company that remains a remarkable repository for the music of the era. Her playing, especially in the cadenzas, coupled with her energetic leadership, made this easily the musical highlight of the program. She is always a delight to watch, and here was an absolute joy to hear. Her “whole body power” (to borrow from the nomenclature of oriental martial arts), while standing, was exceptional and exhausting (for both performer and audience).

After intermission, Christophers returned to conduct the two remaining works by Haydn. The
Overture in D major, part of a now-lost longer work, was short and sweet, with its interplay between the lower strings and the violins especially evident, and several surprises for the audience along the way. This was followed by the Symphony #86, one of the six “Paris” symphonies by Haydn. As it segued from the placid to the powerful, with his clever use of pauses and rests, it proved a lively conclusion to a well-thought-out program.

There remains one more opportunity to experience this program, again at Symphony Hall on Sunday January 29th at 3pm. The pre-performance commentary by Teresa M. Neff is highly recommended. Go and enjoy them both.

The remainder of the current season includes:

Glories of the Italian Baroque
-February 10 & 12 at Jordan Hall

McGegan & Mozart
-March 3 & 5 at Symphony Hall

Monteverdi Vespers
-April 7 & 9 at Jordan Hall/Sanders Theatre

Handel's Semele
-May 5 & 7 at Symphony Hall

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