New Queen’s Hall Orchestra – Organic Classics

0 of 5 stars

Oberon – Overture
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.73
Salut d’Amour, Op.12
The Marriage of Figaro – Overture

New Queen’s Hall Orchestra
John Farrer

Recorded on 29 January 2005 at a concert in Fairfield Halls, Croydon

Reviewed by: Mike Wheeler

Reviewed: January 2006
Duration: 68 minutes [including ‘bonus’ track]



It’s not every day you open a CD dominated by Brahms’s music to find yourself reading the names Kate Moss and David Bailey. Bailey’s protest against the “perfect mediocrity” of “unattainable perfection” in fashion photography, quoted on the back of this release’s booklet, is offered as a parallel to the New Queen’s Hall Orchestra’s own ethos. This is not just a matter of using instruments of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – narrow-bore brass, gut strings and so on – but an approach to performance which values expressive phrasing and individuality above regimented precision. These performances were recorded at a concert and with only minimal patching are now released on CD. The result has a refreshing honesty in which the odd moment of minor imprecision and an audience cough or two is more than outweighed by the vigour and vitality of the playing.

The overture to Weber’s “Oberon” gets off to a magical start, and the quick music is wonderfully light on its feet, though the lyrical second subject is slow almost to the point of self-indulgence.

Initially the tempo in the first movement of the Brahms struck me as more ‘non troppo’ than ‘allegro’, but there’s no lack of dramatic power at climactic moments, with the NQHO brass particularly coming into its own, cutting through the texture without swamping it (the brass’s baleful power almost makes you wonder if Brahms’s supposedly feeble joke about printing the score on black-edged paper wasn’t meant at least half-seriously). Inner details spring to vivid life, with the striking individuality of the woodwinds’ timbres, singly and collectively, and resolution of the lower strings all offering the perfect antidote to the notion that Brahms’s orchestral writing is dull and heavy. The slow movement similarly combines a strong, flowing current with passionate intensity, while the third movement intermezzo is song-like and nimble by turns. The finale positively bursts with energy and exhilaration, and the way the brass blazes in the final bars is itself enough to vindicate the NQHO’s approach.

Of the two encores, Salut d’Amour gets an affectionate but not over-sweet reading, while the ‘Figaro’ overture fizzes with vitality.

The recording captures it all with a combination of warmth and clarity to match the performances.

Strikingly packaged, and stamped ‘Organic Classics’, the extras on this enhanced CD are of variable value. Disappointingly, the rehearsal video merely offers two minutes of uninterrupted playing instead of the expected opportunity to eavesdrop on some of the nuts-and-bolts work that went into building the performance. A short discussion between the orchestra’s artistic director, John Boyden, conductor John Farrer and members of the orchestra is more illuminating. There are photos of the concert and, in an extended version of the various booklet notes, one of which is an interview with John Farrer, the chance to read what amounts to a full-blown manifesto laying out the NQHO’s philosophy. There is much to applaud here, but I did feel a tad uneasy at some occasional hints of ‘everyone-is-out-of-step-except-us’ self-justification. The recorded results are strong enough to stand up perfectly well without such a diatribe.

The bonus track, the finale of Mozart’s Serenade for thirteen wind instruments (K361), offers a preview of a forthcoming NQHO release. The piquant sound and lively playing makes me look forward to hearing the whole thing.

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