Ode for St Cecilia’s day: Welcome to all the pleasures
Dardanus – Suite
Concerto in E flat for two pianos and orchestra, K365
Symphony No.63 in C (La Roxelane) [Original Version]
Der Freischütz – Act II finale, The Wolf’s Glen
Music for the Royal Fireworks
Grace Davidson (soprano)
Julia Doyle (soprano)
Robin Blaze (countertenor)
John Mark Ainsley (tenor)
David Wilson-Johnson (bass)
Richard Egarr and Robert Levin (fortepianos)
Max – Philip Langridge
Caspar – Clive Bayley
Samiel – Peter Sidhom
Choir of the Enlightenment
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Richard Egarr (harpsichord)
Sir Charles Mackerras
Sir Roger Norrington
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 30 June, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
This was an unexpectedly long concert. It began rather later than the stated 7 o’clock and finished a few minutes short of 11! The breaks between each work all involved prolonged alterations to the platform – probably unavoidable – but the two intervals were frustratingly stretched to nearly half-an-hour each. As stated in the programme, the organisers suggested a 9.30 finish!
This concert celebrating 21 years of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment opened with the gentle welcome of Purcell, directed from the harpsichord by Richard Egarr, with a small chorus nuzzling in with its instrumental colleagues, and five soloists with not much to do walking from the side to the centre to do it. Then, after birthday greetings from Sir Simon Rattle projected onto a silver screen (Iván Fischer also sent recorded felicitations), Sir Roger Norrington lavished attention on Rameau’s fecund imagination – sprightly, elegant and gravely beautiful.
The concert’s second part brought antiphonal violins to the platform for the first time (maybe a bit of a history lesson was also on view) and begun with Mozart’s two-piano concerto. Richard Egarr and Robert Levin were something of a comedic double-act in terms of directing the performance and in their interplay; the outer movements sparkled with joie de vivre with the flowing middle one having an agreeable soft centre. The sound of the two fortepianos (makers’ names not specified) carried well in the Royal Festival Hall as did the various permutations of the OAE throughout the evening – whether in Baroque, Classical or Romantic music – with, of course, all the playing-styles required fully observed. Vladimir Jurowski led Haydn 63 with energy and dynamism – the hard-stick timpani made an incisive contribution – in a work notable for having no slow movement; the second movement Allegretto scurried surreptitiously.
It wasn’t until 10 o’clock that the ‘Freischütz’ scene was upon us – and remarkable it was in a nearly dark Hall. Here, Wagnerian foundations were fully laid. The OAE sounded utterly at one with the idiom – the brass braying but never usurping balance – and Mark Elder conjured some astonishing sounds from the strings. The midnight bell was judged to perfection, an English translation was flashed up on the screen, and both Clive Bayley (skull in hand) and Philip Langridge brought the opera house to the concert stage in the most compelling way. Peter Sidhom had a few words to utter at the end and fully entered into the sinister machinations so powerfully set up. Sir Charles Mackerras completed this marathon with Handel’s Fireworks score. If not using the huge forces Handel intended (for outdoor performance), or as Mackerras once recorded, this was still on a grand scale: 3 sets of timpani, four military drums (Rameau had made do with one!), six horns, six trumpets, a contingent of winds (including a serpent) and strings. Jurowski played one of the two harpsichords. An exuberant (and deft) way to round off this birthday celebration. The concert’s extended bill of fare won’t suit BBC Radio 3’s schedule, but let’s hope it all gets broadcast anyway!