Edinburgh Evening News – Hadyn/Beethoven at The Usher Hall – 4 Stars – 2011
This review was originally published on Edinburgh Evening News’s Website on Monday, 6 June 2011.
This concert certainly offered value for money. The main work – a Haydn Mass – is not long enough as a complete evening’s fare. The Choral Union and musical director Michael Bawtree are to be complimented on their choice of supplementary items to fill out the programme.
Beethoven’s Prometheus overture initially showed moments of imbalance. During the slow introduction some important inner parts needed to be more firmly outlined and the first trumpet could have held back a little. These minor flaws out of the way, the performance romped through in lively style.
Haydn’s attitude to the setting of religious texts was usually brisk and cheerful. His Te Deum in C is no exception. Bawtree and his singers gave it a well-paced interpretation that took account of the size of the chorus and its sub-sections. The music never sounded forced. Rhythms were clearly articulated and contrasts effectively managed. Not often performed, the work is an excellent filler in this sort of programme.
The Choral Fantasia was written in an uncharacteristically short time as a grand finale for the concert at which Beethoven’s fifth and sixth symphonies were performed for the first time. He himself played the virtuosic piano part. Generally thought to give us some indication of the nature of the great composer’s renowned keyboard improvisations, it was brilliantly performed by Edward Cohen.
Haydn’s so-called Harmonienmesse of 1802, the main work for the evening, took up the whole of part two. As in the Choral Fantasia, choir and orchestra were joined by a well-prepared group of soloists. Haydn has created an interweaving of solo, ensemble, choral and orchestral music.
Time is always scarce and there are all too many awkward spots where things can go wrong. Much depends on the conductor’s ability to put everything in place at the performance. Not only was that achieved, there was room too for some movingly expressive music making.