Aurora Orchestra/Nicholas Collon at the Royal Albert Hall review: Impressive

Known for its ‘orchestral theatre’ approach to classical music, reinventing the format and presentation in imaginative ways, the Aurora Orchestra’s mesmerizing, memorized performances have become a popular feature at the Proms. It was good to see a near-capacity crowd in the Albert Hall again.

Kudos to Aurora and Principal Conductor Nicholas Collon for drawing players in with Beethoven’s bankable Fifth Symphony and offering the opportunity to experience the more elusive rewards of Xenakis’s O-Mega (with accomplished percussionist Henry Baldwin at its center) and Shostakovich’s First Violin. Concert.

Collon and BBC presenter Tom Service did their usual impressively fluent Beethoven routine, as instructive as it was entertaining. Classical music has not had a double act like this since Morecambe and Wise shared their insights into Grieg’s Piano Concerto. Orchestra members made no less virtuosic contributions with split-second cueing of live music samples.

An itinerant clarinetist (the excellent Tim Orpen) gave us a wonderful theatrical moment, appearing at the front of the stage just as his role came to prominence. And we, the audience, played our part too, learning how the symphony’s opening motto rhythm wandered from one part of the orchestra to another and generated, with our clapping, an aural Mexican wave around the hall.

Patricia Kopatchinskaja plays Shostakovich's First Violin Concerto with the Aurora Orchestra (Mark Allan)

Patricia Kopatchinskaja plays Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto with the Aurora Orchestra (Mark Allan)

Collon also drew attention to the way groups of instruments enter and leave the orchestral texture, encouraging us to focus on fascinating details that are often missed. The eerie similarity between Beethoven’s Scherzo and the finale of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 was nicely illustrated. And Service concluded by promising that the symphony would take us out of this world, through the universe and into the cosmos. But Collon’s reading hardly did. It was lively, exciting, sometimes touching, but a long way from cosmic. Nor did it attempt the sublime in the same way as, for example, Furtwängler’s elementary performances from the pre-war period. Very much a Beethoven Five of our day and none the worse for it.

In the Andante, Collon had suggested that the main theme resembled a prayer, in which the congregation uttered an Amen. What we heard was wonderful, but with a slightly more secular edge. And while we were told how much Beethoven’s finale owed to French revolutionary marches, the actual performance had a deftness and polish generally lacking at the barricades.

Patricia Kopatchinskaja refused to give an encore after her heartfelt account of Shostakovich, explaining that after such a devastating evocation of despotism, tyranny and war, there was nothing left to say. Playing barefoot, she attacked the Scherzo with wild energy, turning like a lioness to urge her colleagues to give even more.

In both the Passacaglia and the gloomy opening Nocturne, Kopatchinskaja gave us a deeply personal reading that was completely different from the work’s first interpreter, David Oistrakh. But then, as far as I know, Oistrakh never played the concert barefoot.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *