Coffee Concert at Brighton Corn Exchange on Sunday October 26 (11am) – Borromini Quartet: James Toll, Naomi Burrell (violins), Sam Kennedy (viola), Dave Edmonds (cello).
HAYDN this summer has had a huge worldwide audience who may not have even realised it was him they were listening to. TV football famously commandeered Puccini for its Italian World Cup with its Turandot ‘I Will Win’ aria from the larynx and chest of Pavarotti. This year in Brazil, Haydn managed by stealth to have his voice heard before every match the triumphant Germans played, and wound up overturing the Final.
The post-war Germans upliftingly commandeered Haydn’s Emperor String Quartet slow movement variation theme from way back in the early 19th Century for their modern national anthem. Already, Haydn (actually Austrian) had been lauded similarly in England when verses by John Newton, who died in 1807 two years before Haydn, were matched to the same tune to create the hymn ‘Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken’ – and they named the tune ‘Austria’ in the hymn books.
A music publisher sold six string quartets billed as by Haydn when, as realised not until the 1960s, they were really by Roman Hofstetter, a contemporary Benedictine monk, choirmaster, organist, and self-confessedly huge Haydn fan. What gave the game away was Haydn’s name on some string parts, discovered to have been insufficiently obliterated by the scoundrel publisher, Bailleux.
These quartets are catalogued by previously convinced historians at Haydn’s Opus 3 and we could hear that No 5 in F major was far too pretty, languorous and comfy to be even early Haydn when Borromini Quartet opened their Coffee Concert with it on Sunday. But it is still noted for its Serenade-like Andante, in which the long solo violin melody was played by James Toll to charming pizzicato accompaniment, with second violin and viola plucked on the lap like guitars.
The Borromini then gave us music by Arriaga. His Symphony and three quartets sealed his revered reputation as Spain’s own Mozart or Schubert before, at 19, an infected lung claimed his life during his fourth year as a Spaniard in Paris. His music has exceptional vitality, integrity and intriguing appeal, though the No 1 in D minor this morning lacked something of that sparkle and energy in Borromini’s hands. They seemed to miss the boat here for apparent want of commitment.
The reason, however, was our Spanish autumn. This morning, the clocks suddenly saying 11am though it was really midday, sprang a second falsehood with an unexpectedly warm and humid Corn Exchange, barometered up by a large audience. This was the Coffee Concerts’ annual link-up with the Brighton Early Music Festival and the Borromini’s extra-sensitive, all-gut-stringed period instruments made them more vulnerable to the atmosphere than steel-stringed modern ones.
The clue was in the extra-long time they took to tune up before taking the stage unfortunately still set up for the Brighton Comedy Festival instead of the standard in-the-round arrangement. Intonation became unstable and under this stress ensemble occasionally suffered. They had to acclimatise to this with great care. But after the interval, anxieties were left behind in faster, livelier music kicked off by Boccherini’s F major Quartet Opus 64 with its outer movements quicker than anything we’d heard hitherto.
Boccherini was an Italian mostly in Madrid, enlarging the concert’s undeclared theme of displaced composers or works, and this performance restored the normally invigorating Coffee Concerts feel. So then what, away from Vienna and Esterhazy, was Haydn doing in England in his late 50s? Europe’s favourite composer, he’d himself been commandeered by promoter and violinist Peter Salomon deliberately to take London − and thereby the nation − by storm.
Haydn unerringly delivered the goods in arguably classical music’s most famously successful foreign tour. And in between the 12 symphonies that sent the audiences into delirium and earned Haydn an honorary Oxford University doctorate as well as a fortune, he wrote quartets. With one of these, The Rider, the Manchester-formed Borrominis galloped away into the afternoon in some triumph.
The music of this Opus 74 No 3 in G is from Haydn at his accumulative zenith and the Borromini found the bite and attack necessary to remind us of the fact. As well as the familiar up-tempo horsey rhythms, there is a slower one in the first movement that could easily land Haydn at the next Olympics: its feel is pure-poise dressage. Having already helped soccer players with his music, maybe he’ll help win someone else an equestrian medal. And it might not be a German if one of the other nations gets there first and chooses it.
So, a fascinating historical morning at the Coffee Concerts with repertoire identifying it as a Brighton Early Music Festival event, and our listening pathway guided and illuminated as always by Chris Darwin’s programme notes. His writing is next to be recognised and presented at a major London concert venue. But if Londoners think they’re reading a Londoner they’ll be wrong. Darwin’s (actually) from Hove.
This season’s Coffee Concerts (all free of charge to ages 8-25) contains extra instrumental variety. The next: Sunday November 16 – Calefax Reed Quintet. Arrangements of Bach/Vivaldi, Concerto in D for 2 violins and cello; Mozart, organ piece K608; Beethoven, piano Variations on God Save The King; Ravel, Suite from Le Tombeau de Couperin; Gershwin, An American In Paris.