Articulate H&H opens season
Seemingly all at once, the city’s classical music scene awakens from its summer slumber this weekend. Among the first to stir was the Handel and Haydn Society, opening its new season last night in Symphony Hall with a mostly Mozart and Haydn program that repeats tomorrow afternoon. On the podium was British conductor Harry Christophers, who is in his third season as the group’s artistic director and has just renewed his commitment for an additional four years.
Christophers arrived with ambitions for renovating H&H’s period instrument orchestra and its chorus, updating its sound by backdating it, focusing on core Baroque and early classical repertoire and pulling the ensemble away from later 19th-century terrain.
The sound he seems to have in mind for the orchestra is one that is lighter, leaner, more tightly groomed and elegantly clipped, in a direction in line with stylish European early music ensembles. Just how far the orchestra has come toward reaching that goal was clear in the lucid account of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40. Moments of the Andante achieved a warmly conversational quality, and the final two movements had a degree of gestural clarity and rhythmic élan that brought the music across with vigor and a satisfying crispness.
In essence, the H&H orchestra has grown more articulate, though that’s not always the same as having things to say. Christophers built his renown in the choral world, and his choral conducting sometimes feels more developed in the specificity of its ideas about phrasing than his work with orchestra alone. Last night, many ideas pertaining to dynamics, shaping, and the parsing of musical rhetoric felt only partially realized. Still, given how far this partnership has come, one has high hopes it can continue growing.
Overtures by Haydn and Dittersdorf rounded out the program but the first half primarily showcased the gifted fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout, in Haydn’s F-major Concertino and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 22. Bezuidenhout displayed his characteristic elegance and lightness of touch, but I think the quiet charisma that flowed from his Mozart in particular derived from the sense of spontaneity and creative participation he brought to the solo line; one senses less a dutiful interpreter than an engaged musician at play. The fortepiano he used seemed perfectly tailored to the music at hand. The music itself, however, seemed to want a space far less cavernous than Symphony Hall.
Jeremy Eichler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.