Edinburgh Festival Concert: Hanover Band Usher Hall

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The Independent Culture
Bands of authentic instruments tend to sound very different from each other. It proves, perhaps, that we do not really know how music sounded in former days. Earlier in the Edinburgh Festival, the orchestra of the American Handel and Haydn Society, which accompanied Gluck's Orfeo, had a tone that was dulcet, candlelit, insinuatingly strange and seductive.

The Hanover Band, who gave three late-night concerts last week as well as accompanying Haydn's Creation on Sunday evening, have a more modern style. There is enormous vitality and rhythmic life, and the strings from time to time acquire that breadth and richness which comes from patches of surreptitious vibrato. The tuttis of Haydn's "Paris" symphonies often seemed truly orchestral, with a power and brilliance in the violins, and a shimmer in the oboe tone, that would have done credit to the Berlin Philharmonic.

In spite of this, they delivered sinewy lines and moments of detached refinement that earned them their colours as purveyors of 18th-century music. There was a bewitching flute, pure and airy, and a staggering prodigy of the natural horn, who mastered the stratospheric obbligato in the vocal trio "Pieta di me" (sung luminously by Nuccia Focile, Katarina Karneus and Toby Spence) with untroubled confidence.

With the help of the conductor Sir Charles Mackerras, they made excellent sense of some very fast tempos, not least in the Creation. Their transparent textures engendered a happy environment for the soloists. Felicity Lott, in particular, sang winsomely, with mellifluous, light coloratura and an almost operetta-like charm, her description of the creation of the birds (the number we used to call "On mighty pens") a glittering showpiece threaded with the subtle colours of clarinet and flute.

Neal Davies is not the kind of heroic bass one associates with this piece. He sang with intimate good-humour, avoiding the tempting low Ds, while the low strings illustrated his evocation of animal fecundity with a shadowy warmth that recalled a consort of viols. The modest tenor of John Mark Ainsley rode easily above the orchestral detail of "Nun schwanden vor dem heiligen Strahle".

It was absolutely right to have a piano - rather than a harpsichord - for the recitatives. It would have been good to hear more of this delightful instrument. There were, too, some stylish vocal cadenzas, presumably written by Sir Charles.

Stylish, indeed - that was the word for the whole presentation of this expert ensemble, which takes its authentic responsibilities lightly.

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