Chichester Cathedral, Oct 24
Overheard in the Oxfam bookshop beforehand was somebody saying they’d read a certain book and it was ‘unusual’ which immediately made me wonder what was ‘usual’.
Elgar and Haydn seem to me fairly usual but they might not to others, it all depends on what you’re used to. Perhaps it means ‘mainstream’ but the more one tries to make ‘usual’ mean anything, the less it means anything.
Elgar’s Three Characteristic Pieces, op. 10, are possibly not characteristic of Elgar and thus are unusual. The Mazurka quickens with some gusto, driven by the timpani, the Serenade Mauresque is indeed Arab in flavour with its woodwind conjuring hints of Marrakesh before Contrasts: The Gavotte A.D. 1700 and 1900 is faux baroque before modulating the theme into bona fide Elgar.
Haydn’s ‘London’ Symphony’ no. 104 was written in 1795, the same year that Beethoven turned 25 and wrote his first two Piano Concertos. Although his Symphony no. 1 wasn’t begun until 1799 and finished in 1801, one can hear in Haydn’s last where Beethoven learned how to do his first. It’s there from the imperious opening drumbeat and into full spate of the development in which Haydn deploys his musical idea with ‘classical’ discipline.
The Andante is a string-driven thing, unadorned, until horns, bassoon and woodwind fill out the sound, which was one of several swellings of sound that the CSO achieved to great effect. Haydn was ever disinclined to be morose and the Minuet and Trio was buoyant and upward-looking until the Spirituoso finale was all of that with its brass, rhythms and stagey big finish could be readily attributed as Beethoven Symphony no. 0. It was ever thus, with a new generation taking inspiration from the one before before taking it yet further.
Not having the dubious advantage of being a tragic figure, Haydn is somehow overlooked in the assessment of ‘genius’ as if torment and suffering were an essential ingredient of greatness but it shouldn’t be and I’m sure that suited him fine.
It’s a great thing, by way of a change, to have the stage filled with musicians on a Chichester lunchtime where there are usually no more than a quartet. It happens once a year, packs the place out and everybody enjoys being orchestral. The Chichester Symphony Orchestra is a highly competent unit under Simon Wilkins with Natalia Corolscaia making herself at home as leader and on today’s evidence remain in excellent form.