Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Ticciati

Idomeneo – Overture
Don Juan – Ballet music
Idomeneo – Ballet music
Le nozze di Figaro – Overture; Porgi amor; Vedro mentre io sospiro; Dove sono
Symphony No.60 in C (Il distratto)

Claire Rutter (soprano)
Stephen Gadd (baritone)

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Robin Ticciati

Reviewed by: Graham Rogers

Reviewed: 28 April, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Robin Ticciati. ©Silvia LelliThe last-minute indisposition of soprano Lisa Milne resulted in a compromised programme for this concert by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, but the high quality of musicianship ensured an good evening nevertheless. At the helm was the young British conductor Robin Ticciati, displaying the dynamism and intelligence with which he is rapidly making a name for himself.

The overture to “Idomeneo” provided a rousing opener, followed by Gluck’s the ballet music from his music for Don Juan. The initial movements were pleasant, elegantly poised dances in the refined gallant style, but it was not until the final, extended ‘Sturm und Drang’ sequence depicting the demonic dancing furies, that it really came alive. The OAE strings relished the frenzy of the fiendish writing, the players’ faces a delightful mixture of intense concentration and enjoyment.

Some sixteen years later Mozart clearly recalled that musical evocation of the Don’s descent into hell when he came to the climax of his opera “Don Giovanni”. The ballet music of Mozart’s earlier opera “Idomeneo” made for a fascinating contrast with that of his more old-fashioned contemporary. Immediately more dazzling, Mozart’s flamboyant score is far more varied both in dance-styles and orchestral sonorities (though the orchestra he uses is not much bigger than Gluck’s). Ticciati directed an engaging performance, working up to a grippingly exciting conclusion.

Stephen GaddDeprived of the additional numbers from “Idomeneo” that Lisa Milne was to have sung, however, the first half was unsatisfying in its shortness. Haydn’s dramatic cantata “Scena di Berenice”, which should have opened the concert’s second half, was replaced by a sequence from the far more familiar “Le nozze di Figaro’, beginning with a spirited account of the overture dominated by over-thunderous timpani. Stepping in at very short notice, husband-and-wife Claire Rutter and Stephen Gadd shared three arias between them. Gadd’s confident performance of the Count’s ‘Vedro mentre io sospiro’ was the highlight, his well-oiled voice a delight, and the fresh experience of having recently played the role was displayed in his splendid characterisation. Rutter’s renditions of the Countess’s arias, though pleasantly sung, failed to get to the heart of two of Mozart’s most poignant and ravishing numbers.

The most substantial work on the programme was Haydn’s extended six-movement symphony, ‘Il distratto’. Originally written as incidental music for a play, the symphony became one of Haydn’s most popular works during his lifetime, incorporating as it does all of his famous trademarks: the first movement is characterised by arresting pianissimos, quirky pauses and drama; the easygoing charm of the second is punctuated by strident horn calls; a courtly minuet is contrasted with a rustic, weirdly harmonic trio; and the fast and furious fourth movement provides a barn-storming false-finale – which duly elicited applause from members of the audience who hadn’t read their programmes … this was followed by a delicately flowing Adagio and a short, brisk finale which opens with another joke: like the ‘distracted’ character of the play, the orchestra forgets to tune up before starting to play, and has to stop to do so. Stylishly performed, with contrasts brought out and jokes played up to the full, Haydn’s symphony concluded somewhat lightweight but still enjoyable evening.

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