Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment – The Eve of Revolution: Paris

Rameau
Castor and Pollux – Suite
Mozart
Sinfonia concertante in E flat for violin, viola and orchestra, K364
Gluck
La clemenza di Tito – Se mai senti
Haydn
Symphony No.83 in G minor (The Hen)

Grace Davidson (soprano)

Rachel Podger (violin/director) & Pavlo Beznosiuk (viola)

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Iván Fischer


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 14 May, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Grace DavidsonWith pairs of flutes (doubling piccolos), oboes and bassoons at the front of platform (right in front of the conductor), there was a colourful edge given to the strings for a 15-minute set of pieces from Rameau’s 1737 (then revised) opera, “Castor and Pollux” – ceremonial, utterly charming and rhythmically vital. Iván Fischer relished Rameau’s unexpected twists and his use of silence, and there was some pastoral merrymaking along the way, the coup de théâtre coming in the last movement when the ‘hidden’ Grace Davidson offered some angelic chirruping from afar and was perfectly complemented by the sotto voce orchestra.

Iván Fischer. Photograph: Budapest Festival OrchestraFischer then took an extended interval. The result was a chamber-music rendition of Mozart’s great Sinfonia concertante, sort of directed by Rachel Podger (actually she danced along), a performance that lacked majesty in the first movement (too much hustle and bustle) and the ultimate in poignancy (if no lack of feeling) in the too-flowing middle one. But the finale was perfectly speeded to bring out its articulation and truculence. Balance throughout was exemplary. If neither soloist quite imposed herself or himself on the work (both of them extemporised passages and decorated others and Pavlo Beznosiuk produced a lovely tone), there was nevertheless an infectious camaraderie to this account that was very enjoyable.

Grace Davidson has a lovely voice and a charmingly unaffected personality. Although her vocal production is tonally a little inconsistent (although ornaments were exactingly delivered), she brought much that was heartfelt to a mellifluous aria from Gluck’s “La clemenza di Tito” (which pre-dates Mozart’s setting by three decades and more) and, from this example, it seems an opera that anticipates “Così fan tutte”.

One of Haydn’s ‘Paris’ Symphonies (82-87) was the concert’s gem, Iván Fischer emphasising the opening movement’s tragic (“Sturm und Drang”) air and allowing the music to turn on a sixpence for the clucking effects. Throughout, Fischer’s attention to pauses and dynamic variance – if somewhat micro-managed – illuminated this miraculous music to advantage not least in securing vivid contrasts. Indeed his conducting stance was that of a sword-fighter, his baton his weapon! Crispness of ensemble and total commitment was guaranteed!

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