The Charleston Chamber Orchestra Series, presented by the Charleston Symphony, continued Saturday evening at the Dock Street Theatre with a light-hearted program featuring some of Franz Joseph Haydn’s playful pieces.
It was a crowd-pleaser, sprinkled with classical wit and casual parlance from the stage by concertmaster Yuriy Bekker. A slide show enhanced the informal presentation and offered some visual clues about Haydn.
The program — called “Time Machine: Where Are You Haydn?” — began with the presto movement from String Quartet, Op. 33, No. 2, nicknamed “The Joke.” (Lots of Haydn’s music bears a nickname; reordered, the program might have been called the “The Surprise Toy London Farewell Joke.”)
It continued with a rendering of the Toy Symphony in C major, featuring symphony colleagues and special guests playing important instruments such as bird whistles, triangles, a ratchet, toy trumpet and drum. Fun.
Then things got heavy. Well, not really. Brandon Nichols emerged with two horns — a Haydn-era unvalved German hunting horn, which he demonstrated, and his regular valved French horn, which he performed on.
His playing was very pleasant, though it seemed a touch timid and lacking in long phrasing.
Next came the last movement of the Farewell Symphony, which is famous for its vanishing musicians. They pick up and go as the piece winds down, the choreography indicated by Haydn.
Then the audience was treated to the Andante movement of the Surprise Symphony, which features one especially loud chord struck by the band following an especially quiet passage. Surprise!
The program concluded with the final movement of the London Symphony (No. 104 in D major), and for the first time the orchestra got truly serious. It played the piece very refreshingly, spiritoso, and quite well, replete with dynamic nuance, flashy violin licks and an emphasis on Haydn’s innovations.
I wish I had heard more of London, and perhaps a complete string quartet (Haydn invented that genre after all), and less of the super-popular Haydn hit list. But in general, it’s hard to deny the appeal of the hits. And the receptive response from the packed house only proved that the Charleston Symphony is succeeding admirably with its chamber series.