CIMF, Concert 2 / “The Mozarts, The Haydns & The Bear”. At Fitters’ Workshop, April 28. Reviewed by IAN MCLEAN.

MUSIC from a composer collective of various Bachs, Mozarts and Haydns sounded like an impressive way to launch a festival.

Stir the talented Australian Haydn Ensemble (AHE) into the recipe along with two wonderful singers and the ingredients were there for a grand opening gala concert. The mixture proved to be just that with a large crowd braving the rain to enjoy the acoustics of the Fitters’ Workshop as the 2023 Canberra International Music Festival, now in its 29th year, set off on the hectic pace it will maintain for the next 10 days.

Festival artistic director Roland Peelman conducted the concert, which opened with JC Bach’s “Symphony in G minor Op. 6 No. 6”. This Bach was one of four sons of JS Bach who became composers. He was known as “The English Bach” after settling in London at age 27 in an appointment as Music Master to Queen Charlotte.

The sixth symphony, in three movements, is a contrast between driving rhythms and gentle lyrical passages and, from the dynamic opening “allegro”, galloped along with gusto and excitement. Sound was big and well balanced with every instrument heard with clarity and distinction.

AHE director and violinist, Skye McIntosh. Photo: Peter Hislop

Tenor Andrew Goodwin and soprano Jacqueline Porter joined the AHE to sing 5 Mozart concert arias. The first may well have been composed by an eight-year-old Mozart when, with his father Leopold, he visited JC Bach in London in 1764.

Singing was excellent with soaring voices rising over the orchestra with consummate ease. The happy, light-hearted tone of the entire concert was set in the humorous and clever patter song “Clarice cara mia sposa”, written by Mozart for a comic opera by Piccini.

A gentle aria, highlighted by beautiful interplay between AHE director and violinist, Skye McIntosh, and soprano Porter concluded a rewarding first half.

Period instrument horns heralded Michael Haydn’s (younger brother of Joseph) “The Wedding in the Alp”, a lively and melodic little overture before “Cassation in G major (Toy Symphony)”, credited to Leopold Mozart. Four children joined the orchestra to play various shakers, rattles and bird whistles – the only thing missing was an authentic toy trumpet and colourful toy drum! Nevertheless, it was enjoyable fun for both players and audience.

The musical highlight was undoubtedly a masterful performance of Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Symphony No 82 in C major”. Nicknamed “The Bear”, probably due to the bagpipe drone featured throughout the finale, which was reminiscent of tame bears dancing at fairs, this symphony was the last in a commissioned set of six composed for a 67-piece orchestra operated by freemasons in Paris.

It is a grand symphony and was played with great precision, wonderful dynamic control and contrast and a joyous vibrancy.

The 2023 Festival theme is “The Child Within”. This opening concert set up the tone for that theme particularly well. It was a happy evening of exhilarating music played with great spark, passion and vitality while maintaining tight, high-quality musical discipline.

Feature image: Soloist Andrew Goodwin, left, and conductor Roland Peelman with The Australian Haydn Ensemble. Photo: Peter Hislop.

This review was originally written and published by IAN MCLEAN from CityNews on 28 April 2023.