There are, of course, as many superstitions within the classical music world as anywhere else – but the ‘curse of the ninth’ is perhaps the most potent.
Essentially the belief is that a composer will be fated to keel over or put down their pen during or after completing their ninth symphonic opus. Think Beethoven, Mahler, Dvorak or Vaughan Williams.
Evidently Haydn, hidden away on the remote Esterhazy estate, didn’t get the memo because during the course of a long and prolific career he produced 106 of them.
The Phil chose number 90 – one of a run of works the Austrian composed for performance in Paris – to pair with Bruckner (ironically another of those who fell foul of the curse) in this warmly enjoyable Thursday night at Hope Street.
Part of the enjoyment came with watching conductor Andrew Manze throw himself in to the musical melee with joyful (although always controlled) abandon.
Manze is an elegant and animated storyteller, particularly evident in the Haydn where he conducted with the aid of encouraging nods and extravagant exhalations.
His efforts garnered an effervescent performance from the pared down Phil, with lovely woodwind including some filigree flute excerpts.
The andante was measured but light of tread, and there was pleasing phrasing and some souffle textures in the menuetto – and a sweet winding oboe passage from Rainer Gibbons.
The finale’s controlled but headlong gallop raced the audience towards Haydn’s false finish (and yes, some of us fell for it the trickster) before Manze and leader Thelma Handy got things back of track to deliver the actual final bars.
And so to Bruckner, who not only failed to finish his Symphony no 9, but spent a lot of time fiddling with his (now) audience-pleasing Symphony No 4, performed here with warmth and a glowing clarity.
Bruckner may have been influenced by Wagner’s sweeping scope, but his symphonic structure owes much to Beethoven, here exemplified by an opening which places mysterious horns over tremolo strings and then builds, incrementally, in radiance and grandeur.
Manze and the orchestra effected a great sense of motion and musical sweep through an expansively played first movement, its big tunes rendered in lustrous fashion.
The andante, a lament of sorts, was given solemn but subtle treatment, while the partnership of conductor and players created a palpable sense of tension and anticipation through the scherzo’s repeated series of slow crescendos.
Similar care and attention was given to the long finale – a mini symphony in its own right, and a big bold musical statement whose waves of melody lapped in radiant fashion off the stage and in to the hall.
The Bruckner is repeated on Sunday in partnership with Beethoven.
Top: Andrew Manze - photo by Benjamin Ealovega