Labadie, Handel and Haydn offer a Mozart masterpiece and three Classical-era rarities

November 10, 2012 at 12:07 pm

By Aaron Keebaugh

Bernard Labadie conducted the Handel and Haydn Society orchestra Friday night at Symphony Hall.

History is filled with the names of composers whose music, it is often believed, did not measure up to the highest standards of artistic creativity. Yet history likewise reveals that there is much fine music waiting to be discovered that lies unknown and unexplored.

Conductor Bernard Labadie and the Handel and Haydn Society assembled a charming mix of lesser-known symphonies with one masterpiece Friday night at Symphony Hall. Works by Henri-Joseph Rigel and Joseph Martin Kraus stood alongside symphonies by Haydn and Mozart in a program that traversed two decades of late-18th century musical history.

Scholarly inquiry aside, H&H nobly demonstrated that the Rigel and Kraus symphonies are more than proto-Mozartian oddities. The music of both men were popular in their day and these are mature, highly expressive, and well-crafted works that stand as worthy exemplars of Classical symphonic writing.

Rigel’s Symphony in C minor, Op. 12, no. 4, offers fine lyric expression and characteristic sturm und drang drama. The outer of the three movements contain plenty of fiery passages, and Labadie directed the small orchestra of strings and winds with appropriate spirit and well-considered attention to tempo.

Also cast in three-movements, Kraus’s Symphony in E minor presents less of the dramatic angst of the Rigel work. The composer’s training is evident in the work as the music employs elements like the Mannheim crescendo, and the orchestra effectively handled the piece’s sparse, delicate orchestration and emotional contrasts.

Labadie went on to lead the ensemble in a taut reading of Haydn’s Symphony No. 26 in D minor. Composed about 1768, the symphony makes use of a recurring chant melody that Haydn experienced during Viennese Easter services. The work, for this reason, later received the nickname Lamentatione.

The violins showed great facility with the syncopated melodies of the opening movement, and the full ensemble brought out the varied subtleties of the score. The oboes glowed in their lower register as they carried the chant in long, lyrical notes throughout the second movement while the violins provided momentum in a soft but persistent obbligato. Haydn’s prankish manner shows in the final Minuet and Trio movement when the orchestra punches occasional forte chords through the soft texture of winds and strings. One errant violin attack at the start apart, the H&H musicians put across the music with the necessary light, dance-like quality.

Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony was the best known work on the program. Unfortunately, Mozart’s final symphony received the least polished playing of the evening with intonation problems in horns and strings marring an otherwise expressive performance. Labadie opened the throttle for the final movement’s famous fugue, and the horn section took the opportunity to open up, resulting in cleaner attacks and better intonation. The celebrated finale concluded the symphony in triumphant style, bringing a fitting end to an enlightening evening of music.

The program repeats 3 p.m. Sunday afternoon at Symphony Hall.

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