The Radio Kamer Filharmonie gave a riveting performance of orchestral works of the late 18th century under the direction of Masaaki Suzuki this weekend at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. The theme of the afternoon dealt with the brief but highly influential German artistic movement dubbed Sturm und Drang. Originating in around the 1770s, this aesthetic outburst formed first in the fields of literature and philosophy while having cross-disciplinary reaches to the areas of music, painting and theater.
The visionaries of this time were proponents of an individual expression often imbued with sudden, often violent shifts in action intending to surprise, even shock, its public. It was thought that the prevalent rationality of the Enlightenment philosophy of the day was simply not all-encompassing enough for the human experience; these artists, whether they were writers, composers or painters, wished to push against this status quo and show just how wide the human range of emotions could go.
Under the direction of Masaaki Suzuki, the orchestra was in experienced and wise hands. Already a leader in the early music scene as the leader of the Bach Collegium Japan and a frequent guest conductor of some of the world’s greatest Baroque ensembles, Suzuki brings a certain verve for the music of this time period.
The program itself consisted of two giants of this repertoire, W.A. Mozart and Joseph Haydn. The lesser known Joseph Martin Kraus’ Sinfonia con fugato per la chiesa (1789), however, was a welcome treat to the ear as the program’s opening work. True to its tempo and character indications, the piece was played in the most “maestoso” approach, offering robust accentuation from the bass while still allowing the upper strings and woodwinds to punch out of the texture from above.
Moving on to Mozart’s Symphony no. 25 in G minor (1773), the ears of most of the public perked up. The well-known introduction of this symphony has been used for many commercial purposes during the last quarter century, including its use in the 1984 film Amadeus. It automatically stirs up a kind of restless, hyperactive energy; this kind of drama, to this scale with the number of musicians used in the orchestra, was only just beginning to penetrate the scene during the 18th century. Imagine having heard such a piece for the first time, without the common recognition we experience today as modern listeners. It must have been a great shock of pleasure to hear something so ground-breaking and unexpected.
The execution of the Haydn Mass no. 13 (1801), however, left something to be desired. Though the number of people on stage was impressive in and of itself, I found the balance for the singers a bit thrown off. The orchestra’s soft sections were simply not transparent enough to make way for the soloists to project through the enormous texture which included the nearly 40-member Groot Omroepkoor.
One shining moment of the mass included a brief organ interlude at the end of the Credo. Completely charming and imitative, the light bursts of color coming from the instrument, gracefully played by Mr Pieter Jan Belder, were an instant joy to the ear.
Overall the afternoon of Strum und Drang symphonies was a pleasurable and sometimes gut-wrenching one. The interpretation of Masaaki Suzuki was also lending some wonderful input to this already expressive group of musicians.