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Brahms, Ligeti & Reger

Max Reger: Eine romantische Suite op. 125
[Arrangement for flute, clarinet, 2 violins, viola, violoncello, harmonium 4 hands and piano 4 hands by Arnold Schönberg and Rudolf Kolisch]

Ligeti / Piano Concerto
Brahms / Serenade No. 1 [Arrangement for flute, clarinet, basson, horn & string quintet by Christopher Nex]

Aurora Orchestra/Nicholas Collon
Rolf Hind, piano

Duke's Hall, Royal Academy of Music Sunday 8th June 2008/ 6.30-for-7pm


A cunningly constructed programme by this hand-picked group of musicians under organist/violist/conductor Nicholas Collon - a name to watch - gave great pleasure and food for thought. The Reger rarity was unfashionably over the top luscious romanticism; we'd probably have hated it in full orchestral guise, but it was fascinating in this version for Schönberg's Society for Private Performance, with harmonium and piano duet contributing a particularly evocative flavour, all moulded with affectionate rubato and rich textures by Collon (who was filming himself for study purposes...).

In stark contrast, Ligeti's polyrhythmic piano concerto, daunting to even turn the huge pages of the score, let alone to play the music. Ensemble sounded to be good and clearly no effort had been spared in preparation. Matters of accuracy in the 'fiendishly difficult' piano writing have to be taken on trust, but Rolf Hind gave an impression of being well in control and the whole thing was exhilarating, sounded good in Duke's Hall and received with a well earned ovation.

The biggest surprise was however the Brahms Serenade, which was riveting for all its 45 minutes and more enjoyable in Nex's arrrangement* than I remember it from infrequent orchestral concert airings.** Collon impressed me here as a born Brahmsian, and the ensemble was ideally flexible, with Jocelyn Lightfoot on horn an unassertive star, her playing acknowledged by conductor and audience.

A special concert, marred only by obtrusive air conditioning noise throughout the first half, switched off in the interval only at my particular request. And a very late start was caused by because of the clarinettist's delayed arrival. That was for us a happy mischance, because we too had been caught up in the all too common failures of London's transport system (in our case one faulty train and one escalator closed, causing a huge build up of passengers knowing not where to go to get out to the street!) made us late also. Musicians can no longer risk cutting it fine to get their gigs - I gave up on a Masterclass at another college recently after waiting an hour for the Master, delayed on the Tube...

Peter Grahame Woolf

*The Serenade in D major Op. 11 was composed during 1857-60 in as many as four different guises; the first full version, for nine instruments, one of each Classical orchestral instrument except with the substitution of a second clarinet for the oboe with six movements, saw light in 1858. - - Reports vary as to whether Brahms remained fond of the nonet version of the Serenade and the manuscript score and parts simply disappeared, or whether he deliberately destroyed them. Either way, the chamber version was never published; consequently, it is only accessible in reconstructions, of which various renditions - varying in detail but not in essence - have been made over the past fifteen years or so. That printed parts are as yet only available on rental has seriously hampered the adoption of the Serenade into the mainstream chamber repertoire [Riverdale Ensemble, Toronto].

**P.S.I have since listened again to a perfectly decent recording of the orchestral version which Joachim urged the young Brahms to make, by the Ulster Orchestra/Handly [Chandos CHAN 8512], and it is frankly dull by comparison with Auora's performance, which should be recorded. PGW

Aurora Orchestra at Royal Academy of Music 9 March 2007au

Aurora Orchestra is one of the burdgeoning London based small orchestras; on this showing definitely one to watch.

Its nineteen members, many of them RAM graduates, displayed confidence and consummate skills in conductor Nicholas Collon's well designed programme.

Takemitsu's rain piece featured flute and some exotic percussion; Webern's famous Bach orchestration was sumptuous - hard to recall how freakish its fragmented Klangfarbenmelodie lines used to seem in early decades of the last century...

Adams' clarinet concerto was given an assured, indeed commanding, performance by Timothy Orpen, who had been featured by Musical Pointers not long ago. Far more impressive and enjoyable live than on recording, the orchestration featured banjo, mandolin and guitar, and samplers spiced the sound spectrum as accordion and mooing cow!

Finally a most welcome revival of the once oft-performed Secret Theatre (1984) of Birtwistle, here given with sensitive extension of the cantus/continuum into an abstract drama with movement and lighting.