In the mid-1790s, a Haydn symphony might have been the loudest sound in Europe, unless one was in range of cannon fire. Playing late classical music on period instruments, the Hanover Band captures that sense of excitement with grace and poetry as well as high spirits.
What was so remarkable about Wednesday night's performance at the Barns of Wolf Trap was how little of this excitement was conveyed to the audience. The Barns -- a favorite spot for amplified folk and pop music -- soaked up the band's sound as if it were rainwater seeping into those old, porous wooden beams.
A musician friend found temporary relief from this acoustic nightmare by cupping her hands around her ears and pulling them forward to catch more of Mozart's "Prague" Symphony. The miniature amphitheater helped prove what one was tempted to doubt: that conductor Roy Goodman shapes a phrase with breadth and grandeur; that he shapes the textural contrasts among instrumental groups (an ideal that gave way, in the 19th century, to more homogeneity). Among authentic-instrument conductors, he is one of the most entertaining. Some of his antics -- leaping forward to shape a cantabile dialogue among string choirs, or coaxing forceful statements from the brass sections -- may be a bit anachronistic, for the virtuoso conductor was an innovation Mozart did not live to see. But no inappropriate Romanticism marred Goodman's clear, well-focused interpretations.
The repressed passion one senses in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466, links it with "Don Giovanni." By allowing for more blend between soloist and orchestra, a fortepiano reading can capture that work's symphonic as well as its operatic qualities. Christopher Kite played expressively, neither rigidly nor tautly. But listeners could only estimate his fortepiano's dramatic bite; the benefits of period performance were lost.