A Haydn Celebration 1: Songs and Fortepiano Sonatas
Tuesday, 4 August 2009 at 8:00pm UBC School of Music Recital Hall

Performers Ellen Hargis, soprano and Michael Jarvis, fortepiano

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

Early Music's commemorative focus on Haydn marking 200 hundred years after his death and MusicFest Vancouver's focus on German composers partnered beautifully in this joint offering of works by Haydn and Mozart.

Partnership in fact was the watchword for the entire evening. The happy marriage of words and music by both Mozart and Haydn was matched by the subtle and empathetic interpretation of the performers as well as the sympathy between singer (Ellen Hargis) and fortepianist (Michael Jarvis).

Ellen Hargis always a joy to hear and her voice has only grown warmer with maturity. Such is her technical skill that she can express the most subtle nuances of meaning in her material.with the utmost economy. Tiny gestures and inflexions bring out moments of drama and poetry in the text and music with elegant musicianship and ground the emotional expressiveness.

Michael Jarvis shared the same insights. His playing faithfully supported Hargis approach with impeccable phrasing and filigree ornamentation, and he moved from delicate restraint to dramatic intensity with ease and grace.

The evening was so full of gems it is hard to single any out. Four lieder by Mozart set the tone for the rest of the evening. In Abendempfindung an Laura, the fortpiano was dark and mysterious, complementing Hargis morbid contemplations of death's aftermath. Als Luise die Briefe ihres ungetreuen Liebhabers verbrannte was dramatic with rapid mood changes, a mini opera in 90 seconds. Das Vielchen summed it all up, love, death and drama wrapped in 18th century beauty and Mozartean personality.

The Haydn songs were a revelation. Simply as settings of words, they are remarkably responsive to the rhythms and sounds of the English language. As interpretations of poetry they are deceptively simple. 18th century beauty is matched with restrained emotion, sophistication with directness, sentiment with wit. This being Haydn, humour is not far off. An owl goes hunting through the left-hand part in “The wanderer. In The Mermaid the keyboard plunges into the depths, while the mermaid's voice sparkles alluringly on the wave tops.

The final cantata, Arianna a Naxos is a study in mood. It begins when Arianna wakes in the morning on Naxos after escaping from Crete and realizes Theseus is missing. She looks for him with increasing anxiety, eventually sees his ship sailing away and realizes she is abandoned on a desert island. Without sacrificing either beauty or clarity, Hargis and Jarvis together portrayed Arianna as a force to be reckoned with. Love was followed by puzzlement, loss, anguished abandon and at last incandescent rage.

Hargis is such a fine dramatic singer that she can project a wide range of emotion and character with the subtlest gestures. With her long, supple line, judiciously chosen vibratos, and effortless ornamentation she makes it look easy. Taken together with her deep engagement with the text and music, the result is a highly personal, passionate and satisfying performance.

The Mozart and Haydn lieder were separated by Mozart’s take on a theme by Salieri, Six Variations on Mio caro Adone, K180 for solo keyboard. Michael Jarvis played this charmingly, showing off the teen-age composer's cleverness just enough. After the intermission came Haydn's Sonata in G major, Hob, XVI/27. In unpretentious fashion Jarvis gave a master class in how to play this music. Every note was clear, even in the fastest runs, the structure transparent. There were plenty of ornaments, enhancing the fabric of the music like pearl drop earings and dress-pins. Without benefit of pedals he made the fortepiano sing, especially in the middle section. Bravo.

© 2009 Elizabeth Paterson