OAE Night Shift

Sonata a tré
Sonata Prima in A minor, Op.10/13
Sonata Op.8/10 (La Cremona)
Concerto for four violins, Op.3/10
Concerto in F for two horns
Sonata di Viole
Concerto Grosso in B flat, Op.6/11
Concerto Grosso in D minor, Op.5/12 (La Follia)

DJ Heart [9 p.m.-10 p.m.]

The Night Shift [10 p.m.-11 p.m.]

Solomon – Arrival of the Queen of Sheba
Concerto for four violins, Op.3/10
Concerto in F for two horns
‘Air on the G String’ [Air from Suite No.3 in D, BWV1068]
Concerto Grosso in D minor, Op.5/12 (La Follia)

Alison Bury, Catherine Weiss & Matthew Truscott (violins)
Andrew Clark & Roger Montgomery (horns)

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Rachel Podger (violin)

Reviewed by: Hayden Jones

Reviewed: 22 May, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

London’s smorgåsbord of concert attractions undoubtedly causes headaches for orchestra project managers, fund-raisers and PR people alike, and it’s a constant challenge trying to attract a new audience without alienating the existing one. But the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment has taken up that challenge with, it has to be said, great vitality and originality.

It couldn’t have chosen a better advocate than Rachel Podger, one of the most outstanding baroque violinists of her generation. Her association with Britain’s premier period-instrument ensembles has been well documented on disc and in the concert hall. For this performance, we were taken on a journey through the Italian baroque from the publication of Cima’s Sonata for Violin and Continuo in 1610 through to Geminiani’s ‘La Follia’ variations published in 1727.

Apparently overwhelmed by the beauty of Podger’s solo introduction in Cima’s Sonata, the OAE’s Luke Green forgot to turn on the organ, leaving a brief moment of silence, followed by laughter from both audience and orchestra, before he slowly moved across to flick the switch. This singular moment of comedy didn’t faze Podger and the OAE, who went on to perform the Cima with the utmost refinement and delicacy.

The same could be said of the ‘violinist’s paradise’ concertos for 4 violins by Legrenzi and Vivaldi, which were given stylish and beautifully blended performances from the soloists – the Vivaldi given perhaps a softer focus than we have come to expect from some more visceral Italian ensembles. Sandwiched between the two multi-violin concertos was Legrenzi’s madrigalesque ‘La Cremona’ sonata which gave the OAE an opportunity to exhibit deliciously crisp articulation and attack to wonderful effect.

After a brief announcement to a near-capacity QEH by horn-player Andrew Clark lamenting the fact that he and Roger Montgomery were about to play the more difficult of the two concertos Vivaldi composed for two horns, we were treated to that ebullience and vitality for which the OAE is justifiably famous. It’s just a shame that Clark’s intonation was unpredictable: there were some edge-of-seat moments in the first movement when the natural horn clearly had a mind of its own. But any awkwardness was soon overcome to give a thoroughly musical (if initially nerve-racking) performance.

The second half of the concert offered up some of the finest playing: the rich, supple tone of Podger’s violin danced through Stradella’s pioneering Sonata di viole (one of the earliest concertos grosso) while those written by Corelli and Geminiani were models of poise and sophistication. Podger’s and the OAE’s depth and beauty of line was breathtaking – the playing rich and succulent, the ambience perfectly judged. As an encore was Bach’s Air from the Third Orchestral Suite.

After the performance and as part of the OAE’s ongoing initiatives to develop new and innovative concert programming, we were presented with “The Night Shift”, comprising a second, informal, performance by the OAE of some of works heard earlier.

To separate the performances, the ‘classical’ DJ Heart, in the candle-lit foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, played a random mix of excerpts ranging from Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony to Debussy’s Violin Sonata through to the ubiquitous ‘Nessun Dorma’. While the thought of a DJ may seem intriguing and even a little bizarre, it’s not as novel as it appears: there are a small number of well-established bars in London that have regular, well-attended nights for the classically-hip crowd; it was heartening to see curious spectators making the most of DJ Heart’s classical mix.

The OAE’s second performance was hosted by Projects Managers Ceri Jones and Steve Thomas, who also acted as mediators between orchestra and audience in a brief question and answer session. The performances had the same flair, panache and musicality as before, though with the audience being more enthusiastic and responsive. Those present were encouraged to come and go at their discretion (no one did) and, less good, clap between movements (some did).

This was a fascinating experiment, but it didn’t go far enough in involving the audience. It would have been better to hear some different repertoire, and to be given the chance to hear the OAE explore their instruments and capabilities. There was a real sense that that the audience was itching to be educated, to be given a rare opportunity to connect with the players which didn’t really come to fruition.

Still, the OAE should be encouraged that after an evening’s worth of consummate musicianship their relaxed and informal late-night efforts to connect with its audience was a success in so many ways.

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