The Australian Haydn Ensemble launches this year’s Canberra International Music Festival in captivating style.

The Festival Opening Gala of the 2023 Canberra International Music Festival (CIMF) presented a symphonic feast from three of the 18th century’s most prominent musical families. The Bach, Haydn and Mozart families had their strong musical lineages on full display in this concert.

The performers were the Australian Haydn Ensemble (AHE) directed by Skye McIntosh, featuring Andrew Goodwin (tenor), Jacqueline Porter (soprano) and conducted by CIMF director Roland Peelman.

After introductions from the chair of the CIMF Genevieve Jacobs, and the ACT Arts Minister Tara Cheyne, who declared the festival open, the 20-plus strong AHE, almost all standing, blasted out JC Bach’s, Symphony Op. 6, No. 6 in G minor. This stormy work is a concentrated symphony, perfect for a gala concert opening.

Even when heard from the very last row in the Fitters’ Workshop, AHE created a spectacular sound. This is attention-grabbing music, where, even in the slow movement, the rhythms and dynamics drive the work forward. The storm of music in the last movement crashes and bursts with energy. In the 1800s this must have overwhelmed audiences.

Next, a selection of Concert Arias by Mozart. Beginning where JC Bach left off, the highly stressed aria “Va dal furor portata”, K. 21, had tenor Andrew Goodwin sounding profoundly strong and penetrating.

Then came the aria buffa, “Clarice cara mia sposa”, K. 256, with Goodwin traversing the comical lyrics while Peelman, acting out the part of his angry interlocutor, pushed Goodwin around and conducted at the same time. He drew a huge laugh from the audience.

“Voi avete un cor fedele” K. 217, sung by Porter, offered a more refined, plaintive scenario, her gracious voice capturing the essence of the aria with subtlety and strength.

The solemn “Misero o sogno – Aura che intorno spiri”, K. 431 followed. Darkly dramatic, Goodwin and the AHE made a strong impact with this song. Likewise, the sweet song of love and joy, “L’amerò, sarò costante”,K. 208, from Il Re Pastore, performed by Porter, drew warm applause.

Jacqueline Porter and the Australian Haydn Ensemble. Photo © Peter Hislop

After the interval, we heard Michael Haydn’s, Overture to Die Hochzeit auf der Alm. Beautifully expressing Alpine pastures with its opening for horns, there was also that sound – that fresh, clear and lively sound, synonymous with the family name.

A piece attributed to Leopold Mozart, the Toy Symphony, came next. AHE included four young children in its line-up, who sang and played a selection of percussion instruments and whistles. The joyful short movements added much colour to the night. The antics of the players and the children captivated everyone

Completing the opening gala; Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 82,L’Ours(The Bear). The first of Haydn’s six Paris Symphonies, The Bear is a showpiece work that can brightly open or close a concert.

Pounding and jumping, this dazzling symphony is quite the showstopper; loud and profound one moment, soft and refined the next. The balance of tonal construction not only excites, it also pleases, and AHE played its strengths and subtleties to perfection, bringing long applause at the end.

Feature image: Andrew Goodwin, Roland Peelman, Jacqueline Porter and members of the Australian Haydn Ensemble. Photo © Peter Hislop

This review was originally written and published by ROB KENNEDY from LIMELIGHT on 28 April 2023.