Sir Roger Norrington 75th-Birthday Concert

Overture, Le corsaire, Op.21
Geistliche Chormusik – Ich bin ein rechter Weinstock; Selig sind die Toten
Kleine geistliche Konzerte – Eile mich Gott zu erretten
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98 – ii: Andante moderato
Suite in C, BWV1066 – Overture
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica) – finale
Idomeneo – Overture; Placido è il mar
Symphony No.5 – Adagietto
Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), Op.36

Rachel Nicholls (soprano)

The Schütz Choir of London
Terry Edwards

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Alison Bury (leader) [Bach]
Sir Roger Norrington [Mozart]

Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra
Sir Roger Norrington

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 16 March, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Sir Roger NorringtonThis very enjoyable – even enlightening – concert was a celebration not only of Sir Roger Norrington’s 75th-birthday (on the day itself) but also of his musical eclecticism. A swashbuckling and affectionate account of the Berlioz got the concert off to a rousing start, the non-vibrato of the strings (“pure tone” as Sir Roger terms it) adding an appropriate pallor to proceedings. Way back when Norrington was a pioneer of the music of Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672). On this occasion the venerable Terry Edwards (the Manager between 1968 and 1976 of the Norrington-founded Schütz Choir of London), led a couple of Motets. They were rather lovely, gently intimate, and rich in polyphony. Music very much alive, although Rachel Nicholls’s delivery of the central solo (with organ. Alastair Ross) seemed a little too operatic. But, maybe not! She and the Choir later contributed to a sublime chorus from “Idomeneo” to follow a fierce and theatrical Overture with Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment.

Sir Nicholas Kenyon was an admirable host linking the music with concision and humour, Marshall Marcus and Jonathan Miller and Sir Roger himself also contributing as part of a ceremony that included the OAE in without-conductor J. S. Bach (spirited and impromptu) and a Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra now well-versed and convinced by its conductor’s requirements. The Brahms excerpt, more an Allegretto, but typically flexible, was vivid and sometimes lingered into a reverie, whereas the ‘Eroica’ finale was garrulous, the apotheosis no excuse to stand still.

The Mahler 5 Adagietto, found strings (with an unusually prominent harp) yearning, poignant and ardent and with a magical diminuendo to close; at a flowing eight minutes (in line with Willem Mengelberg and Bruno Walter) this was no ‘in memoriam’ performance or film soundtrack (no more than ‘Nimrod’ would be in the Enigma that followed). We did get two bars played with vibrato, though, as added by Mahler himself in 1910!

As for the Elgar, the opening was plaintive (those pure-tone strings again), seeds being sown. This was a pellucid account, uncomplicated in one sense (there’s a darker side to the work than can be mined). Only the half-speed ‘Troyte’ raised doubts, the music deconstructed, and one might have liked a bigger heart on a bigger sleeve at the close of the work (here blessed with the ad lib organ). But it was certainly enjoyable throughout, although whether the strings could have added degrees of vibrato at various points is a question I throw into the ring, also could the Stuttgart brass have been less bright in response to their ‘subdued’ string colleagues? And the matter of portamento.

These are queries for another time. Sir Roger will have an answer. As it is, this splendid birthday-party of a concert, admirably carried through, closed (once the front desk of violins had found the music!) with a gently flowing, touchingly turned Entr’acte in B flat from Schubert’s music for “Rosamunde”; well three-fifths of it! However genial and witty Sir Roger can be, he ploughs his own furrow with conviction and scholarship, something very nicely encapsulated in this thoughtfully compiled celebration.

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