Symphony No.44 in E minor (Trauer)
Violin Concerto in A, K219
Potpourri on themes from Peter von Winter’s “Das unterbrochene Opferfest” for clarinet and orchestra, Op.80 [arr. for viola by Annette Isserlis]
Sinfonia concertante in E flat for Violin, Viola and Orchestra, K364
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Rachel Podger (violin & director)
Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel
Reviewed: 26 March, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall
Sometimes it takes performances as vital and as fresh as these to remind us how good these works really are. Over-familiarity can lead to weariness but the 21-strong Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, including Rachel Podger, made it sound as if we were hearing these works for the first time. The vivacious Podger led the orchestra in the Haydn and took the solo role in the two Mozart concertos: it was her infectious enthusiasm which was largely responsible for the success of the performances.
The Haydn symphony, a “Sturm und Drang” affair, was appropriately turbulent in the outer movements, the playing characterised by crisp tempos and clean-cut phrasing. It wasn’t all ‘storm and stress’, though. The Minuet had charm abounding and the dreamy Adagio was refined and delicate, and, as with the faster movements, held together by a strong rhythmic line. The closing Presto which sparkled with verve and virtuosity.
The Mozart violin concerto carried over the freshness imparted in the Haydn, the lighter ‘period’ bow lent a wit and twinkle so often absent from big-band performances. Podger’s crisp articulation and long melodic lines made the first movement a complete delight, directing the OAE with just a nod of the head or a flourish of the bow. The lightness of touch did nothing to diminish the intensity of the central Adagio, whilst the finale shimmered with joyous abandonment, the ‘Turkish’ passage played with gusto. The Sinfonia concertante was similarly inspired, Podger joined by Pavlo Beznosiuk. They blended beautifully, expressive when necessary yet never falling into indulgence. Apart from the odd blemish from the horns the orchestral playing was equally flawless.
Earlier Beznosiuk had given a rare outing for Spohr’s Potpourri, a short and charming set of variations originally composed for clarinet but heard here in a version for viola. This was the only part of the concert where levels of inspiration dropped. Ensemble was at times scrappy and despite some delicate shading from Beznosiuk the performance never really got going.