Joseph Lanza Directing
The Bear and the Stock Market: Orchestra London Cathedral Series—A Brilliant Presentation of Music and Fun
Wednesday March 24, 2010
by Brian Hay
The orchestra did a fabulous rendition of Telemann's "La Bourse"! It was great, one of many highlights of an entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable program. But more on that later …
The concert began with a strong reading of Mozart's 'Serenata Notturna'. It began as a typical (for Mozart) example of what can be done with a musical form that's supposed to be unobtrusive when an individual with genuine (in his case monumental) talent endeavours to really do something with it. In this instance it was a showcase for how transparently clear a string orchestral can really sound. And just for variety he threw in a timpani part. There was no way the guests of whichever aristocrat this was written for could have ignored it. But it was so enjoyable it's unlikely they complained about it either. The group played it straight until the third movement when Joseph Lanza brought things to a grinding halt (literally) and started throwing some unannounced variables into the equation. Great fun!. The audience loved it and so did the orchestra.
That was just the beginning of the humour though. The 'Capriccio Stravagante' (by Carlo Farina) was basically a musical joke. Before the piece was played Mary-Elizabeth Brown introduced the various effects Farina wrote into the piece while (Joseph) Lanza demonstrated them. This must have had a few ears twitching when it was first played sometime around 1627. The effects are framed by lovely melodies and played in a fashion most elegant. Then a cat howls. Or a dog barks. Or something like that. Lanza led the led the orchestra through the segments that frame the effects with playing that was exquisitely mannered. And then he dropped the little pranks into the mix with glee that was almost evil. It was great. He had fun with it. The orchestra had fun with it. And the audience loved it.
The elegance that Lanza introduced into the orchestra's playing was no sham though. They employed it again for their presentation of Georg Philipp Telemann's 'La Bourse'. Their playing during their performance of this piece was a model of restraint and refinement. That elegance (though it was a mask for a society that was considerably less refined under the surface) is, for myself anyway, is one of the appeals music from the baroque period. The controlled and delicate structures of individual musical movements often manifest themselves as moments of sublime but incredibly fragile beauty. The entire presentation of this work came through as a series of moments like that. The work from the wind section (particularly oboist Ian Franklin) was gorgeous. The string work that Lanza coaxed from the players was ravishing. Honestly, had the show ended there, it would already been a thoroughly satisfying concert. But Orchestra London doesn't do things by halves.
The finale was a vivacious performance of Joseph Haydn's 82nd Symphony, 'The Bear'. This performance was given with a small ensemble such as what Haydn would have had at Esterházy. I'm guessing (the sight lines made an exact count impossible) but it seemed like about twenty four players were on the stage. The result was a tightly played but tautly controlled whirlwind of activity. The tempos for all of the movements were brisk. (This symphony doesn't really have a slow movement in it incidentally). The balance between the strings and the winds was exemplary. And the playing was often furious. The title, as Jeffrey Wall notes, only applies to a small segment of the finale. It also wasn't attached to the work by Haydn. It suits the extroverted nature of the music though. Lanza had the orchestra inject more aggression into their playing for their rendition of this symphony and it made for an exhilarating performance. When they brought the music to it's breathtaking finish it was a satisfying end to a brilliant performance.
This orchestra is doing great things. This show, under the direction of their Concertmaster Joseph Lanza, offers some insight as to why. They have great leadership within the ensemble. Lanza is a fabulous player. He's also an excellent conductor. He presented a program that (like most of what they present) was a breath of fresh air. Their management (Joe Swan and others) lets them take some chances. They inform and entertain. Each show is as much a history lesson as a concert. And they play with passion. They're a great resource for the city.
They proved that again tonight.
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Hand Coloured Aquatint by Valentin Daniel Preisler
After a lost Painting by Michael Schneider