Academy of Ancient Music, Wigmore Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

The Academy of Ancient music sounded in fine form on their latest visit to the Wigmore Hall: spirited, expressive, well together and ­ what was not invariably true in their earlier years ­ perfectly in tune. As well they might be under the volatile and cultivated direction of the distinguished conductor-violinist Giuliano Carmignola, giving just sufficient guidance without imposing an "interpretation" on the symphonic works, while plying his fiddle in the concertos with a perfect balance of elegance and fire.

It was good, too, to hear "period" Haydn and early Mozart for once without a continuo harpsichord flailing away in the background. Although it seemed a shame that only one of the four chosen works was an out and out masterpiece.

Mozart's Symphony no 14 in A major K114, composed in Salzburg at 16, is, of course, a pleasing, highly accomplished confection of all the stylish turns of its time, already showing his penchant for full orchestral textures but few real hints of the individuality to come. Haydn's Violin Concerto in C major Hob VIIa: 1, was likewise an early work of a composer more attuned to symphonic dialectic ­ though Carmignola floated its slow movement melody over pizzicato accompaniment affectingly.

Compared with Joseph Haydn's incisiveness, his younger brother, Michael can sometimes sound a sleepy fellow. But the outer movements of his Violin Concerto in A major MH207 proved lively enough, even if their melodies failed to linger long in the memory. And yet within a few bars of Joseph Haydn's Symphony No 49 in F minor "La Passione" we were in a different world – a work in which even the dark, sad little minuet could be said to contain more substance and originality than the three preceding works put together. The AAM responded sonorously to the brooding unease of its opening movement, and although Carmignola set perilously fast tempi for the second movement and finale, articulation was not scrambled. How strange, bold, austere, and driven these "sturm und drang" middle period Haydn symphonies continue to sound. Sometimes it seems that modern music already started here.

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