Haydn’s symphonies have such delightful nicknames — “Hen,” “Palindrome,” “Schoolmaster” — that it’s disappointing to learn he wasn’t responsible for any of them. But that doesn’t make the works themselves any less delightful. Two of them, No. 6, “Le matin,” and No. 82, “The Bear,” turn up on the Handel and Haydn Society’s exuberant “Haydn in Paris” program this weekend, flanking his Violin Concerto in G and the overture to his opera “L’isola disabitata.”
Actually, “Haydn in Paris” seems a misnomer. “The Bear,” from 1786, was the last of his six Paris-commissioned symphonies. But “Le matin” dates from 1761, the violin concerto from 1769 (or perhaps earlier), and the opera from 1779. What matters, though, is that Handel and Haydn’s artistic director, Harry Christophers, is giving this composer a rare, and thoroughly deserved, evening to himself.
It would be hard not to hear the sun rise at the adagio beginning of “Le matin,” as horns and winds, led by the flute, burst into song. Solo instruments are highlighted in this concerto grosso–style symphony. Last night, in the strings-only slow movement, Aisslinn Nosky’s violin and Guy Fishman’s cello seemed to be conversing on the beauties of the day. Christopher Krueger’s irrepressible flute led off the menuet; the finale found nature celebrating with a jam session.
The Violin Concerto in G, also for strings only, is not a virtuoso showpiece, but Nosky, doubling as conductor and soloist, gave clear direction to the orchestra and clear expression to the music. The first movement was spirited but not driven, with a melting cadenza; the C-major second movement conveyed bittersweet regret. In the racing finale, Nosky made like a country fiddler before the music, with typical Haydn wit, ghosted to a close.
“L’isola disabitata” was not a success at its premiere — blame the clunky plot and not Haydn’s music. The overture is a mini-symphony, with a languishing introduction, a storm-tossed main theme, a nostalgic love theme, and even a stately minuet. Christophers played it all to the hilt.
“The Bear” got its name from the hurdy-gurdy drone that underpins the finale, music for bears to dance to. Here, too, Christophers offered a reading of dramatic contrasts, from the thunder-and-lightning timpani and waltzing strings of the first movement to the hopping sparrows of the allegretto second to the sly false endings of the finale. The bear that danced to this performance would have to be very light on its feet.
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.