AOE/Mark Elder – 10 March

Semiramide – Overture
Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat, Op.19
Overture: Ruler of the Spirits
Symphony No.5 in D, Op.107 (Reformation)

Imogen Cooper (fortepiano)

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Mark Elder

Reviewed by: Neil Evans

Reviewed: 10 March, 2004
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

One of the most fascinating things about the period-instrument revival is that it has challenged our notions of performance practice and interpretation from early to nineteenth-century music and has even made in-roads into works of the last century.

This engaging programme from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment was poised tantalisingly on the cusp of classical and early romantic. In Rossini’s overture to Semiramide, Mark Elder drew inspired playing, handling Rossini’s famous trademark crescendo – and this overture has one of the very best – with crisp assurance.

As one instalment in a complete series, this was followed by Beethoven’s Second Piano Concerto. Hearing this on a fortepiano makes you more aware not only of the classical and Mozartian sympathies of the B flat concerto but also that Beethoven’s far-reaching exploration of the piano’s compass was already in evidence in this work. Playing a copy of an 1823 fortepiano by Joseph Brodmann, Imogen Cooper brought her customary elegant and poetic phrasing; the wit and spontaneity she brought to the finale was particularly infectious. She also impressively displayed a good command of dynamics and managed to produce a fully-rounded tone that was not drowned out by the orchestra. (The OAE’s Beethoven piano concerto series is completed on 24 May in the Queen Elizabeth Hall.)

As a clever contrast to the Rossini overture, Elder prefaced the second half with the swagger of Weber’s thrilling Ruler of the Spirits. No gently warming-up crescendo here, but one great, soaring, plunging whirlpool of a piece, very much earning the composer’s allusion to it as “an artillery park”.

The evening concluded with Mendelssohn’s Reformation Symphony, which returned to the hymn-like mood apparent in theslow movement of the Beethoven. This was a subtle, devotional and loving performance, and the two middle movements with their Midsummer Night’s Dream elements of innocence and experience were beautifully and magically evoked.

  • Concert broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Monday 15 March at 7.30
  • OAE

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