Showbiz. And the audience lapped it up. But God knows what the relevance was to Haydn and an orchestra specialising in authentic performance practice. Pieter Wispelwey may have a dazzling technique, but what he conveyed in Haydn's elegant C major concerto was little more than a giant ego. Seldom have I seen a less happy orchestra, having to suffer the shenanigans of a soloist in full competition.
Even in a thundering 20th-century concerto, such wilfully aggressive playing would be out of place. Why, then, was Wispelwey, a young Dutch cellist known for his "authentic" performances, using metal strings - hardly the stuff of Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment performance? And just what was his percussive banging of the bow about; something totally uncalled for in an 18th-century piece, but perhaps de rigueur for the show-off?
Was it all bad? Nearly. Wispelwey's constant raising and dropping of the dynamic level in the first movement (some notes were barely audible) played havoc with the line, while his cadenza in the same movement - nothing to do with Haydn's - evoked the ghost of Astor Piazzolla. In Haydn's achingly beautiful slow movement, Wispelwey nearly let it sing. The less said about the third movement the better, even if the packed audience thought it tastier than sliced bread.
Wispelwey could learn from this orchestra, which includes some great players. In Beethoven's Second Symphony, a quiet earful of Antony Pay's clarinet playing, so subtly understated, might give him some ideas, let alone the orchestra's astonishing realisation of the final movement. Never have I heard an orchestra fizz at such speed, energy or accuracy, utterly in period, smiles radi-ating as they relished each other's playing. The conductor, Marc Minkowski, must take credit, too, whipping things along while recalling the drama and colouring of Haydn's Symphony No 104 earlier in the evening.
Another great British period band - the Academy of Ancient Music - put Haydn's C major Concerto through its paces with a truly accomplished period soloist: Christophe Coin. Rarely can two performances have sounded more different. Here was Coin, endpin-less, manfully coping with vulnerable gut strings (on a sultry evening) at St John's, while displaying an intelligence singularly missing in the earlier performance. As was customary of the period, Coin played in the orchestral tuttis, so narrowing any feeling of "them and us" without sacrificing any sense of position as soloist. The first movement flowed, and in the second, Coin caressed the lovely bel canto line, judiciously introducing slides of touching simplicity; the fiendish passage of the third was effortlessly executed. Christopher Hogwood galvanised his players - including four blazing horns in Mozart's G minor Symphony No 25 - to the delight of a packed house.
OAE, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London; Academy Of Ancient Music, St John's, Smith Square, LondonReuse content