This opening event of the 21st season of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, entitled Haydn in London, was a concert and a half - or rather a concert that could not quite decide whether it was not, rather, a historical documentary.
The speaker was no dusty lecturer, but Simon Callow in wig and knee breeches, impersonating with urbanity and a dubious German accent the violinist-impresario Johann Peter Salomon, who first brought Haydn to England 1791. But it was more than 20 minutes before the first note was heard.
And even then, it was only an illustration to the ceaseless Callow carry-on: a touching farewell song, Trachten will ich nicht auf Erden (Let me not strive for earthly riches) sweetly delivered by that rising young Australian soprano Martene Grimson. So that when, 10 minutes later, the OAE finally took the stage under the direction of Frans Bruggen, the hesitant opening notes of the Symphony No 92 in G major "Oxford" came like balm.
At 72, Bruggen appears so gaunt and frail, it is not easy to see how he inspires performances of such fullness and fire, although it is plain from their smiles that these period players love working with him. Both of the late symphonies in this concert were a delight and a thrill, with an exhilarating sense of cut and thrust in the contrapuntal development sections of the outer movements of the "Oxford", and a wonderfully satisfying balance of dancing elegance and craggy eloquence in the endlessly surprising Andante of the Symphony No 96 in D major "Miracle".
In between, we heard the brief, boisterous Overture "Windsor Castle" and a coloratura showpiece from Haydn's last, grandest and, in the event, unperformed opera L'anima del filosofo. But the garrulous Callow was still there after the applause for the "Miracle" had died to tell us of Haydn's final departure in 1795 back to Vienna to compose The Creation; whereupon we got the gentle aria Nun beut die Flur. Grimson demonstrated her versatility by phrasing, this time, with a contained radiance. But it seemed an oddly downbeat way to end an often joyous evening.Reuse content