A visit from a conductor with the surname Fischer is always to be welcomed, be it Iván or Ádám. For this concert with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment it was the latter; Ádám Fischer has a strong relationship with the OAE, conducting them most notably in recent months at a New Year’s Day concert of Haydn’s Creation in Budapest. Here, Fischer paired Haydn’s Cello Concerto no. 1 in C major with Beethoven’s Symphony no. 7 in A major; two meaty works, the juxtaposition of which did not offer any great revelations, but was thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless.
Firstly though, we had the Overture to Haydn’s opera La fedeltà premiata of 1781, which keen Haydn fans will recognise from the finale of his Symphony no. 73 in D major (“La Chasse”) composed the following year. It’s a bouncy little piece, with strong hints of hunting like so many German works, emphasised by the repeated cry of the horns. In this performance, the horns were on the balcony on the left – at first. They then reappeared on the right, and then delivered their final blast from behind us with Fischer duly faking an air of bemusement. It was an inoffensive and deft touch of humour in keeping with the spirited account of the piece; the energy of the horns was well matched with the vibrant liveliness of the strings - not a bad way to warm an audience up.
Steven Isserlis joined the orchestra for the cello concerto in a reading that avoided excessive sentimentality in favour of a tender and intelligent interpretation. Fischer’s reduced forces blended well with Isserlis, a sense of conversation and clear articulation together with Isserlis’ sensitive technique and expressive phrasing offering a feeling of intimacy not unlike that of chamber music.
Isserlis took the Moderato with aristocratic precision, the opening to the Adagio was brilliantly thin before unfolding with an elegant evenness which eschewed the mournful tug at the heart-strings of some accounts. Isserlis approached the Finale at an appropriately swift pace without making it feel rushed, sacrificing nothing in mellowness of timbre. The brass felt a little less pinpoint than ideal here, but the clarity and fleetness of the strings worked well. Isserlis gave an equally precise encore of Tsintsadze’s pizzicato-based Chonguri, the nimble fingerwork a delight.
With well-worn classics, the risk is always that a performance can be prosaic and, well, ordinary. Fischer’s performance of Beethoven's Seventh was nothing short of exhilarating. Tempi were diverse and dynamic, varying strikingly at times, and there were moments when he drew out pauses to almost uncomfortable levels. There was also a real focus on texture and, particularly in the Allegro, I was impressed by the repeated contrast that Fischer wormed out between light and dark, to which the OAE seemed highly responsive. I’m not necessarily sure that this would have worked quite so well with other orchestras. Strings were layered upon strings without any blurring, the lines clear and the playing meticulously controlled, though there was a tendency towards more force on the timpani than absolutely necessary.
Prima inter pares was flautist Lisa Beznosiuk offering a tirelessly rich performance that cut through the grittiness of the strings, the sound warm and splendidly airy. The Allegretto had an unusual quality of delicacy and Fischer gave the third movement a sense of grandeur emphasised by the adventurous temporal choreography. An inspired and inspiring performance from start to finish.
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