Baroque and early Classical music, that is to say music composed between roughly 1600-1800, offers many rewards to those that are willing to take the time to really get to know the repertoire. For those of us that aren’t able to devote a significant part of our lives to studying the 17th and 18th centuries, the next best thing is to listen to someone who has.
Tania Miller, currently the conductor of the Victoria Symphony on Vancouver Island, is just such a person. Although she is known for her innovative approach to programming, much of her early experience was with Baroque orchestras. Wednesday night at First United Church in Waterloo, she led the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony in cracking program centred on Joseph Haydn (1732-1809).
Miller’s conducting is fluid and expressive without being showy, a style that, if their performance was any indication, was a hit with the orchestra. The opening piece of the concert was the fantastic Concerto No. 12 in G major by Georg Muffat (1653-1704). Although most Baroque music unfolds at a steady tempo, Miller gave the music plenty of room to breathe, so the movements never felt like they were on autopilot. The Ciacona alone is enough to warrant adding this bit of Muffat to your record collection.
Hadyn’s Cello Concerto in C major is one of his most cheerful works. All the cello’s open strings are native to the C major scale as well as its dominant and subdominant, which results in an appealing ringing sound. After a promising opening, soloist Andrea Herzog unfortunately never quite settled in.
I wasn’t convinced by her rather leisurely tempo choices, however I did very much like the cheeky quote of the opening theme of Haydn’s more popular D major cello concerto in the first movement cadenza. The second movement lost significant momentum along the way and while the third movement was suitably peppy it would have been nice to hear a little more of the mid-register busywork that makes the finale so exciting.
Miller has a gift for addressing to the audience and the short introductions she gave before each piece were a delight, striking just the right balance between lecture and causal chat.
Although there were two pieces preceding it, Haydn’s Symphony No.59 was far and away the highlight of the second half, if not the evening. It is in large-scale works like symphonies that conductors can really make their mark and Miller was, in a word, brilliant.
Haydn wasn’t much of a tunesmith as compared to say, Mozart or Schubert and his legendary wit is very much a product of its time, so doesn’t always translate to 21st century sensibilities. For these reasons, I often find his pieces to be a lot of work to fully appreciate.
Wednesday night, I finally understood why Haydn fans love him so much. The music was alive, full of joy and sparkled in all the right places. Even the first and last movements, which by Miller’s own admission don’t even have a proper melody, were completely engaging from the opening chords to the final cadence. Top drawer horn playing by Martin Limoges and Deborah Stroh in the last movement was the icing on the cake.
Le Mozart Noir with Anita Walsh and Linda Melsted, violins and Simon Streatfield, baton.
January 7th — First United Church, Waterloo
January 9th — Harcourt United Church, Guelph
January 10th — Central Presbyterian, Cambridge
All concerts at 8pm