“I have quite a history of getting into trouble with Max Mandel,” said Handel and Haydn Society concertmaster Aisslinn Nosky from the Symphony Hall stage. “Concerts! I mean concerts!” she added, grinning.
Nosky and Mandel, the violist who was her partner in Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major, have known each other for 25 years, since they were teenagers. According to her pre-performance anecdotes, the two were slightly at odds at first until they discovered a shared obsession with 18th-century chamber music, especially that of Mozart. Now fast friends, they delivered a phenomenal performance of the Handel and Haydn program’s centerpiece, the Sinfonia, Friday night. The music crackled with a feeling of playful rivalry and delight.
With the two vigorous virtuosi leading the performance, the strings were initially divided into two sparring factions, the violins following Nosky and the other strings Mandel as they traded the spotlight. The soloists kinetically engaged with their fellow players, sometimes looking behind as if to rally their allies, and some section players were visibly smiling at the musical magic in the making.
Nosky bounced lightly with the beat, flashing a good-natured smile or lifting her eyebrows at Mandel’s bright solos before presenting a sprightly response.
The second movement slowed the tempo, but the passion in the music remained. The finale featured some neat games of “anything you can play, I can play better” between Nosky and Mandel as they echoed each other in humorously exaggerated pauses and false endings.
The Haydn symphonies that bookended the program were also quite good. With artistic director Harry Christophers guiding the sound from the podium, Symphony No. 49 in F Minor, “La Passione,” explored the suffering side of passion. Some larger moments in the initial Adagio could have benefited from more shaping, but the second movement Allegro blew in with the ferocity of a sudden storm, with cello and bass bows hopping across the strings to generate a gratifyingly solid sound.
Symphony No. 87 in A major was more lighthearted. In the surging first movement, the quieter second theme for strings barreled into a sudden full-orchestra fortissimo, a classic Haydn prank that usually wakes up any sleepers in the audience. Debra Nagy’s mellow oboe solo led the way through the Trio of the third movement, and when the main minuet theme returned, it did so with extra snap. From there, it was an easy, breezy ride to the end.
Listeners won’t have to wait long to see another Nosky-helmed performance, as next month brings a three-night engagement of Bach’s complete Brandenburg concertos that she co-directs with keyboardist Ian Watson. Get your tickets fast; according to the program, two nights are sold out, and on the heels of this Sinfonia, that last night might sell out soon.
HANDEL AND HAYDN SOCIETY
At Symphony Hall, Jan. 26. www.handelandhaydn.orgZoë Madonna can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.