Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

Royal Festival Hall 30 June 2007

Henry Purcell Suite from Welcome to all the Pleasures & Now does the glorious day appear
Jean-Philippe Rameau Suite from Dardanus
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Concerto in E flat for 2 pianos, K.365
Joseph Haydn Symphony No.63 (original version)
Carl Maria Von Weber Der Freischütz - Act II Finale (The Wolf's Glen)
George Frideric Handel Music for the Royal Fireworks

Mark Elder conductor
Vladimir Jurowski conductor
Sir Charles Mackerras conductor
Sir Roger Norrington conductor
Richard Egarr fortepiano
Robert Levin fortepiano

John Mark Ainsley tenor
Clive BayleyDrago bass
Robin Blaze counter-tenor
Philip Langridge tenor
Peter Sidhom speaker
David Wilson-Johnson bass
Choir of the Enlightenment

A party atmosphere and an indulgent packed audience for this costly extravaganza, with the OAE importing all the extras it could muster (half a dozen each horns, trumpets and percussion for the Firewoks music). We enjoyed the evening a lot. There was some fine music making and only a little below par, inevitable given the logistics of getting it all together. From our rather personal perspectives the highlights were Rameau and Mozart with fortepianos.

The Purcell made less than full effect with a disturbing toing and froing from the singers' seats at the side of the platform before and after each of their little bits. The audience grabbing conducting of Jurowski in a virtuosic, high-voltage account of the high spirited (rarely heard) Haydn symphony had me recalling that the conductor was only invented in the 19th C; was such intensity and virtuosity quite right for Haydn? The concert's grand climax with massed forces fell a bit flat, though the quieter movements of Music for the Royal Fireworks were nicely shaped by Mackerras, whose 1950s LP (recorded overnight by all the London wind players he could muster), as reissued on CD ought to have been offered conspicuously on sale as a souvenir [Handel-Orchestral-Works].

The big hit of the evening was the Mozart double-concerto, directed from their fortepianos by Richard Egarr and Robert Levin, both conducting vigorously with their heads bobbing to left and right, reminding me of the three-headed Cerberus... This was an invigorating account of one of Mozart's happiest concertos, and balance and general sound quality was excellent, with no difficulty identifying the two parts although we could not see the keyboards. It was tumultuously received and should have made many a convert to the fortepiano. Another triumph for the acoustically reinvented RFH!

Again, a chance was missed by not offering for purchase conspicuously the Bilson/Levin/Tan box of Mozart Concertos on fortepiano in one of the two intervals, or afterwards. Continuing my survey of the old/new RFH, I moved back from the prestigious press seats to one of the few empty ones at the back; row PP in Rear Stalls. There, I was delighted to find the sound seriously transformed, with Rameau's Dardanus suite (under Sir Roger Norrington and in many ways the best performance of the evening) clear, warm and loud enough - the baroque flutes were delicious. So from now, patrons in cheaper seats need no longer feel short-changed as they had used to be by the deadening of the sound underneath the Grand Tier shelf...

Intrusive noise is now acceptably low although there were both low pitched and very high ones (from air conditioning, lighting etc?) still to be heard - very costly to eliminate them completely as at Lucerne. But with the presentation of a Freichutz scene it was back to the fashionable "production", with darkened auditorium, amplification etc (near us a noisy sound desk?). Whilst included to underline the Glyndebourne opera connection, this somehow did not fit well in the concert as a whole.

In some ways this triple decker concert with two longish intervals was a welcome reminder of the fuller programmes we used to enjoy in the old-time Proms. But it was a pity that there needed to be such long platform re-arrangements between items. The concert began at 7 (given ten minutes or so start delay) and ended not long before 10; as is London's way now, our next train was delayed half-an-hour, so it was near midnight before we were home in S.E. London...

And a word about the glossy 50 page programme book, which OAE's Chairman urges us to take the time to read through.

It is full of advertising and self congratulation, and of CVs gone crazy. Included is an explanation/justification of OAE's gimmicky, popularising photographic style; and why would anyone be interested to have comprehensive CVs of each solo performer, e.g. to be told that the speaker in the Freichutz scene "was born in Egypt of a Maltese-Italian mother and an Egyptian father, and settled in England at the age of ten" etc etc for a whole page?

It does not tell us anything about the several fortepianos on stage, which would have been of more relevance...

Peter Grahame Woolf

Image Chi-chi Nwanoku OBE Eric Richmond

Reviews of previous concerts at RFH since its re-opening:
Brendel/Dohnanyi http://www.musicalpointers.co.uk/reviews/liveevents/RiteLPO07.htm#ph