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In recent years the Wigmore Hall has opened its doors to more small ensembles of chamber orchestra size. Their presence adds welcome variety to its programme as long as they are not tempted to play too loudly (more than 10 players can set one’s ears ringing in the Wigmore’s excellent acoustics).
The Classical Opera Company judged this aspect on Wednesday to a nicety. As its name suggests, the group makes fully staged opera productions its main ambition, but it is also running a Haydn series at the Wigmore which combines symphonies and arias from Haydn’s still little-known operas. The 19 players they fielded filled the Wigmore easily, without becoming overwhelming. In historical terms, too, this would have been the right size of ensemble: Haydn used up to 24 players for his opera productions at the Eszterháza Palace in Hungary in the 1770s and a hazy memory of the only time I have seen a Haydn symphony performed there was that the acoustics in the main hall were more booming, less well defined, than the Wigmore’s.
Ian Page, conductor and the company’s artistic director, led energetic performances of two of the earlier Haydn symphonies, Nos. 26, “Lamentatione”, and 44, “Trauer”. Familiar names among the players from other leading period-instrument ensembles ensured basic standards. Page’s rumbustious finales worked best, together with the well-paced slow movement of the “Trauer”, which Haydn is said to have wanted played at his funeral – even if some of the string intonation might not have been allowed through the pearly gates with him.
The novelty of the evening was the selection of operatic arias. Bass Henry Waddington made a suitably bluff impression in a couple of Haydn’s buffo male roles, but young Swedish soprano Klara Ek did rather more. Her light, gleaming, but never acidic soprano – she sailed up to some impressive Bs and Cs at full voice in her aria from Le pescatrici – makes her a name to watch.
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