Chamber Orchestra of Europe (another view)

Slavonic Dances, Op.46
Symphony No.6 “Pastoral”

Chamber Orchestra of Europe
conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Reviewed by: Alan Pickering

Reviewed: 23 November, 2000
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

This was my first experience of Nikolaus Harnoncourt live; it proved most pleasurable.

Commencing with Dvorak’s first set of Slavonic Dances, it was immediately apparent that Harnoncourt intended to stamp, quite literally, his authority on the orchestra. Indeed such was his control that I almost expected him to walk amongst the musicians like a schoolmaster of old. The members of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe did him, and the audience, proud – with their technical excellence and by following his every command to the letter; it was indeed thoroughly rehearsed. Of particular note was the brass, more intrusive than is the norm, but it would be invidious to single this section out because every member of this ’small’ orchestra played with rare verve.

Somehow though the music failed to inspire me. Whether it was one performance too many, or Harnoncourt’s style that reaches chords and details other conductors fail to reach, I felt strangely let down. This is wonderful music though, superbly conducted and beautifully played – perhaps these pieces are more suited to a smaller, more intimate venue.

Beethoven’s ’Pastoral’ was an entirely different experience, ideally suited to the Royal Festival Hall’s size and acoustic, splendidly realised by Harnoncourt and superbly executed by an orchestra that punched well above its weight. It was not difficult to find oneself strolling leisurely through verdant countryside, or beside a babbling brook watching the storm clouds grow, which then discharge their anger. Not by chance is this symphony called the ’Pastoral’: there is no more evocative music, never more affectionately played than here.

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