OAE/Zehetmair Alexei Lubimov + Night Shift

Symphony No.31 in D (Horn Signal)
Piano Concerto No.27 in B flat, K595
Symphony No.4 in C minor, K417 (Tragic)

Alexei Lubimov (fortepiano)

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Thomas Zehetmair

“The Night Shift”

The Tempest – Incidental Music
The Fairy Queen – Suite

Elin Manahan Thomas (soprano)

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Margaret Faultless (violin)


Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

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

Assembling thoughtful and unexpected programmes of Classical music is something the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is ideally placed to do, as was exemplified by in this combining of ‘late’ Mozart with (relatively) ‘early’ Haydn and Schubert. That the ‘Hornsignal’ comes appreciably earlier in Haydn’s symphonies than the ‘No.31’ designation suggests only makes its achievement the clearer.

Thomas Zehetmair made the most of the taut opening Allegro – its quartet of valve-less horns cutting through the texture with bracing insistence – and found elegant pathos in an Adagio whose ruminative solos for violin and cello give this movement as distinctive an expressive profile as its predecessor. Contrast in pacing between Minuet and trio was too pronounced, and with some approximate string intonation in the latter, but the finale was lucidly rendered. Its lengthy variation sequence highlightingnearly every section leader, this amounts to a ‘Young Person’s Guide’ for the Classical era, and the OAE relished these opportunities on the way to a vigorous coda bringing the work decisively full circle.

Although Mozart was barely a year older when he (probably) completed his final piano concerto, that work is yet a world away in its inwardness and pensive detachment. More than those of 1785-6, it is also well suited to an instrument such as the composer himself may well have had recourse to, and with Alexei Lubimov’s credentials as a fortepianist second to none, the outcome was a performance that brought out the music’s limpid clarity and spareness – not simplicity – of gesture. The Larghettowas especially successful, but Lubimov’s clarity of passagework and awareness of balance vis-à-vis the orchestra ensured the outer movements were hardly less finely realised; Zehetmair seconding this through an interpretative stance whose intensity was the greater given its restraint. The OAE was consistently at or near its best, and the fact that Lubimov seems not to have recorded too many of the Mozart concertos is something that – even in so overburdened a year – ought urgently to be rectified.

If the Mozart well accords with the term ‘pathetic’ in its original meaning, then Schubert’s Fourth Symphony can hardly be considered ‘tragic’ in any sense of the term. Not that this detracts from the quality of a work which, after its successor, is the finest of Schubert’s first six symphonies – or explains its neglect in the concert-hall. Those hearing for the first time here may have been left wondering thus – Zehetmair judging the awkward tempo relationship between the first movement’s Adagio introduction and main Allegro to perfection, and rendering the Andante with an ideal balance between repose and unease. He found the rhythmic ‘lift’ that transforms the Minuet into a scherzo (the trio again slightly reined in), while the perpetuum mobile of the finale generated real cumulative energy – without its lengthy tuttis being at all overbearing – on its way to the curt closing chords.

A resounding conclusion to a successful concert, then, such as left one with no pressing desire to hear more music. Those who did could take advantage of “The Night Shift”, second in a series of late-night informal concerts presented by the OAE. Certainly the music played, extracts from Matthew Locke’s incidental music to “The Tempest” and a suite from Henry Purcell’s masque “The Fairy Queen”, made for ideal late-night listening and the performances – stylishly directed from the violin by Margaret Faultless, with soprano Julie Cooper outstanding in her solo songs and James Garnon maintaining a degree of cohesion through well-chosen recitations from Shakespeare and Spenser, left little to be desired.

Less successful was the overall ambience, with the comings and goings of punters in various states of inebriation working against a formal framework such as the Queen Elizabeth Hall tends to impose. Better to have had such an event on the Front Room stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall foyer, though this would have doubtless impeded the preparations for DJ Heart’s classical set which kicked off at 11 p.m. with what sounded to be a segueing of Mahler into Richard Strauss. An interesting idea, even so, which may yet come together on future occasions (there is a further Night Shift on January 25), though the encouragement of such events should not be allowed to detract from the main concerts – which are, at the end of the day, more to do with music per se than any amount of fringe activity ever could be.

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