The musical masterpieces of the past are so ubiquitous today that it is harder than ever to remember that they represent just a fragment of the music composed during their eras. Bach has come to stand for the late Baroque, Haydn and Mozart for classicism, and so on. This sneaky bit of synecdoche is not just misleading; it also makes those composers’ best works seem less extraordinary than they really are.
Correcting this impression was one of the virtues of the Handel and Haydn Society’s Friday concert under conductor Bernard Labadie. Among four 18th-century symphonies were works by German-born composers Henri-Joseph Rigel and Joseph Martin Kraus alongside those of Mozart and Haydn. One could not only hear infrequently performed works, but also appreciate more fully what separates the summits of an art form from the foothills.