AAM Hogwood

Der Freischütz – Overture; Leise, Leise; Und ob die Wolke sie verhülle
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.56 (Scottish)

Christiane Oelze (soprano)

Giuliano Carmignola (violin)

The Academy of Ancient Music
Christopher Hogwood

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 16 May, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

In Spring a young man’s thoughts turn to love and concert planners’ thoughts turn to Early German Romanticism. The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment recently offered a well-planned programme of Mendelssohn, Gade and Schumann and this intelligently structured Academy of Ancient Music pairing of Weber and Mendelssohn, despite occasional roughness, turned out to be a bracing, worthwhile affair.

Weber sprinkled throughout the concert’s first half looked on paper like too much of a good thing; in practice though it turned out well, and broke up what might have been a surfeit of Mendelssohn, thanks especially to the spectacularly fine and focussed singing of Christiane Oelze. Christopher Hogwood’s treatment of the Freischütz overture was swift to a degree – the phrase ‘unnatural exuberance’ sprang to mind – but how good to hear the quartet of valve-less horns, the light, lithe strings and the raucous blaze of ‘authentic’ brass in the coda.

Oelze’s singing of both Freischütz arias was quite simply glorious, pure, assured and, above all, stylish. To close the first half with the second Weber aria after the Mendelssohn concerto might have seemed foolhardy; from Oelze it was a joy. Of the concerto itself opinion is likely to be more divided. Giuliano Carmignola is chiefly noted as a baroque specialist although his repertoire extends far and wide, including Dutilleux and Schnittke, and he clearly enjoys a very happy rapport with the AAM. On this occasion, though, his pitch was frequently approximate, and there was something penny-plain and hair-shirt about his playing. However, there were real compensations, not least because the balance between soloist and orchestra allowed usually-lost detail to emerge naturally. Carmignola’s engaging manner drew a fulsome ovation; however a little more polish would not have gone amiss.

About the ‘Scottish’ Symphony there could be few doubts. Swift introduction, first movement repeat taken, exciting storm at the movement’s close, a sparkling scherzo led by Antony Pay’s ‘Pied Piper’ clarinet, an affecting slow movement and a rambunctious finale culminating in the swiftest of perorations. Hogwood doesn’t always shape and control detail but he is a great animateur and he lets the orchestra play. There was a really contagious enthusiasm about this performance; despite the relatively modest forces the symphony came across as a much more man-sized, large-scale piece than normal. Balances and timbres benefited enormously from the period instruments – notably crisp timpani, a fine rasp on the horns’ stopped notes and a superlatively elegiac and affecting duet from clarinet and bassoon leading to the uplifting closing bars.

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