A sense of nostalgia with a hint of mystery hung over the Concert Hall on Friday for WA Symphony Orchestra’s featured work, Haydn’s Sinfonia concertante.
Four of WASO’s leading musicians – Liz Chee (oboe), Jane Kircher-Lindner (bassoon), Semra Lee-Smith (violin) and Eve Silver (cello) – were billed as soloists, yet a harpsichord held centre stage.
Haydn’s Classical strains took on a wistful, nostalgic quality, perhaps because this would be the last of an heroic run of concertos and ensembles played by the orchestra’s own artists during COVID curbs, with the return of international talent next week.
The four voices and their complementary colours faithfully captured the elegant simplicity of the melody, a whiff of a sigh in the composition and languor in delivery as if spinning out this special moment.
Lee-Smith brought yearning to the Allegro first movement solos and cadenzas, echoed by duets in the double reeds, with Silver’s assured support and virtuoso flourishes.
The Andante second movement opened in violin and bassoon, then oboe and cello, playing across the quartet with an empathy and lightness of touch that spoke of easy familiarity; landing gently on the cadence over mellow horns.
Sudden attack into the Allegro con spirito finale gave way to violin cadenzas alternating with the orchestra, Lee-Smith’s confident lead taken up by Silver in matching quality of tone, sustained by oboe and bassoon; the quartet in dialogue with the orchestra punctuated by exquisitely exposed violin.
A heartfelt hometown cheer at the conclusion said it all.
And the harpsichord? A late addition to the scripted program with Fisch playing and directing from the keyboard.
The instrument is a staple of the Baroque era that Fisch at a Discovery concert in 2019 ironically compared to “someone walking on broken glass while we’re trying to play a symphony”.
The evening opened with Brahms’ Variation on a Theme by Haydn, another whiff of nostalgia harking back from the Romantic to the Classical era, the familiar theme led out by young guest oboist Kyeong Ham, stepping up to great effect with Chee absent on solo duty.
Woodwind was reinforced by German trumpets then transplanted by strings as woodwind and brass tolled out a rhythmic accompaniment.
Fisch was relaxed and expressive on the podium, summoning disparate elements in turn, delicately balancing the dynamics as the theme passed through variations and sections; sometimes more classically Haydn, at others full-on Romantic Brahms — especially in the grandiose finale, which earned a warm ovation for Ham.
After the break, Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No.3 channelled the drama of the French revolutionary era, an opening blast and sustained chordal sequence building gradually to a brusque explosion with full effects in woodwind, brass and strings.
Fisch was in full flight with vigorous gestures painting sound on a canvas of air; leaving nothing on the field in summoning the zeitgeist of Beethoven’s breakthrough decade.
Ovations followed for off-stage trumpeter Brent Grapes, flautist Andrew Nicholson and bassoonist Adam Mikulicz – again, a stand-in for a principal on solo duty.
Beethoven’s much-neglected Symphony No.8 rounded out the program, another sudden attack echoing the surging, swirling melody and dynamics of the better-known Symphony No.7 before suddenly dropping to a curiously unsettling conclusion.
The Allegretto second movement was almost whimsical; a characteristic Fisch coaxed along with deft directions down to another abrupt cadence.
The Tempo di minuetto third stanza was definitely a Classical throwback, a gentle dance measure with trumpet highlights over mellow horns and woodwind as strings meandered through to another backwoods halt.
It was left to the Allegro vivace finale to revive the vigour of the opening, almost experimental in harmonic progressions with disruptive dynamics and rhythm, before finally rendering a typical Beethoven-like crash-bang conclusion.
Ovations for cellos, horns and clarinettist Allan Meyer wound up the night.
WASO returns to the Concert Hall on Friday and Saturday, June 10 and 11, at 7.30pm, with Elgar’s Cello Concerto and Bruckner’s Symphony No.3.