What a great start to a concert when you are welcomed by music even before you enter the concert hall. This is what happened last weekend in The Hague as the audience arrived to hear the Ciconia Consort open their 2013/14 season. The musical theme was the hunt and a local group of hunting horn players, the Jachthoorngroep Waalsdoorp, set the scene in the open air and continued with brief hunting calls inside between pieces.
My Dutch friend told me, approvingly, that there are numerous hunting horn groups in the Netherlands, maintaining a long tradition and, not so approvingly, they are all male. The group we heard was made up of horns of different sizes, from smaller than a bugle to larger than a modern French Horn, and this allowed for some really nice harmony which was in tune and with excellent ensemble playing. Spoken explanations were given by Simon Fuks describing the development of the horn over time.
The concert itself kicked off with Leopold Mozart´s Sinfonia de Caccia for four horns and strings. There was some lovely playing on the natural horns and conductor Dick van Gasteren kept lively tempi throughout. Personally I could do without the balloons being pricked to represent the gunshots but others obviously found it amusing. I think if you can’t find a pistol maybe you are better just to leave this out. Why spoil such nice playing with horrible noises?
Vivaldi´s violin concerto La Caccia followed, with Quirine van Hoek as soloist. The playing throughout was excellent and the continuo part was played by Javier Ovejero Mayoral on a chitarrone. Using this instrument meant that the sections with solo violin, solo cello and continuo had a beautifully balanced ensemble and the instrument has a much more mellow sound than a harpsichord.
Dick van Gasteren introduced Mozart’s string quartet Die Jagd by reminding us that the composer lived in The Hague for several months when he was touring Europe with his parents and sister. In fact they lodged in a building almost across the road from the concert venue. I checked later and it turns out it was in 1765 when Mozart was nine. I am not sure about the point of performing a chamber music piece with an orchestra: the composer had a certain musical texture in mind and multiplying the number of players per part means that we are distorting that texture. I understand the idea of keeping to the hunt theme, but to be honest I think very few people in the audience would have walked out if one of the pieces had not been hunt-themed.
We heard a wonderful wind section in the closing piece, Haydn’s Symphony 73, La Chasse, and I think it would have been better to have played another piece using all these players rather than the string quartet. The Haydn was beautifully played. The Minuetto went at a ripping tempo and there was a frisson of risk, which fortunately did not materialize into an accident, hunt-wise or music-wise.
You can find more information about the Ciconia Consort and see much better pictures than mine. The young players are very fortunate to perform in such a superb venue as the Nieuwe Kerk a multi-purpose building which has not been used as a church since the 70’s and which has wonderful acoustics.
What with all the hunting horn pieces, the full programme and long explanations by the speaker, the concert turned into a marathon two and a half hours. Nobody seemed to mind too much, and nobody minded either when a man wandered in during the Haydn, tried out a few seats and finally settled on the front row. Nobody challenged him or told him to get out, we all just sat listening to the music. How can anyone not love living in Holland!