Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Nezet-Seguin, Queen Elizabeth Hall

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The Independent Culture

The biggest “surprise” of this splendid Haydn bicentennial celebration turned out to be the earlier start time. The rude fortissimo chord which gives Symphony No 94 its nickname was sounding on TV monitors throughout the Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer as this commentator arrived in good time for a 7.30 start. But even the tinny sound and poor image of the latecomers monitor gave one an immediate sense of the charm and exuberance that conductor Yannick Nezet-Seguin was already eliciting from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. And there would be plenty of surprises where that first one came from.

Hearing the familiar Trumpet Concerto expertly played on an early keyed E-flat instrument by David Blackadder threw up its fair share of suspense, its leaps and plunges more nerve-wracking for the primitive plumbing but the lovely weathered brassy sound of it so much more characterful than the burnished tones we hear nowadays.

That sound was again a clarion call, a martial summons, in the second movement of Symphony No 100 "Military" where the spooky foreshadowing of the opening of Mahler’s 5th Symphony proved more startling than ever. Enter then the "military" percussion more than ready for the fray. Such "novelties" sounded freshly minted under Nezet-Seguin, surely the conductor to be watching right now. There was a renewed spring in Haydn's jaunty tunes, grace and grit in the articulations, and an added robustness to those feisty developments with fiery interplay between first and second violins and arresting timpani tattoos. The way the young French-Canadian lengthened and intensified the general pause into one of Haydn's more audacious modulations could not have better demonstrated his instinctive nose for this music.

Most of all, though, it was the sheer vitality and joy of the OAE's playing and that communal sense of rediscovery at how these phrases turn and how individually the harmonies move beneath them. The music was familiar and not. Symphony No104 "London" moved from a most imperious introduction with crisp timpani flourishes to the beery street music of the finale with its low droning horns and a jolly theme whose progress Nezet-Seguin chronicled so vividly through every section of the orchestra. The leapfrogging strings in the coda really sent the rosin flying reinforcing the feeling that even the bicentennial of Haydn's death is cause for partying.