The original plan for last night’s concert by the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra (PBO), conducted by Waverley Fund Music Director Nicholas McGegan, was to call the program Haydn & Mozart with Isabelle Faust. However, Faust had to cancel her engagement and was replaced by PBO violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock, serving as soloist in the A major (“Turkish”) violin concerto by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (K. 219), which had been planned for the program. Furthermore, while the original idea was to situate this concerto between two of Joseph Haydn’s symphonies, the opening selection was replaced by the third symphony (in F major) from the Opus 6 publication of six symphonies by Adalbert Gyrowetz. None of this dampened the spirit of the occasion, which turned out to be a delightful evening of discovery and wit.
Blumenstock frequently serves as PBO concertmaster. However, her skills as a soloist are well known to those who follow early music performances in the Bay Area, including some delightful sharing of the spotlight with violinist Rachel Podger when she led PBO in March of 2013. On that occasion the repertoire was the Italian Baroque; so those who know the repertoire would have expected that a Mozart concerto would be “something completely different.” Structurally, this was definitely the case, not only because of the Classical period but also because Mozart sought out any number of fascinating twists to foil the expectations of those who thought they “knew concertos.”
Blumenstock responded to all of these departures from convention as if they were the most natural things in the world. Indeed, there was a fresh spontaneity in her approach that evoked that same spirit of invention that was expected when Mozart took the keyboard for one of his own piano concertos. The result was an exciting in-the-moment account that left the attentive listener on the edge of his/her seat wondering what would come next, not only in the cadenzas but throughout the diverse phrasings of all of the solo passages. All of this was delivered with a stage presence that was positively joyous (but probably not quite as bratty as Mozart himself was often reputed to have been). For his part McGegan clearly understood the paths that Blumenstock chose to forge, and he made sure that PBO was with her every step of the way with just as much confidence and spontaneous energy.
That spirit of thwarting all of the “usual suspects” expectations was just as evident in the opening Gyrowetz selection. Throughout his richly productive career as a musician,Gyrowetz was a promoter of Haydn’s music. What is more important is that the master’s capacity for wit seems to have rubbed off on him. This was clear from the very beginning in which the first movement of his symphony is in triple metre, more in the spirit of a charming serenade than a precursor of the waltz. Rhythmic patterns again defy expectations during the Minuet movement. As is so often the case with Haydn, this formal dance is the last thing on the composer’s mind; and Gyrowetz’ mash-up of triple and duple metre was as delightful as it was confounding. McGegan was clearly delighted to have encountered this symphony, and he could not have done a better job of sharing his delight with the audience.
The second half of the program was devoted entirely to Haydn’s Hoboken I/91 symphony in E-flat major, as had originally been planned. The master was clearly up to his usual tricks, all of which were dispatched with McGegan’s characteristic panache. Nevertheless, so much of the unexpected had unfolded during the first half of the evening that it also felt as if Haydn was being upstaged. Thus, for all of this symphony’s many virtues, the evening ended with a bit of a feeling that, taken as a whole, the program ran the risk of being too much of too many good things.