Renowned for its ‘orchestral theatre’ approach to classical music, reinventing its format and presentation in imaginative ways, Orquestra Aurora’s mesmerizing and memorized performances have become a popular feature at the Proms. It was nice to see an almost packed audience at the Albert Hall once again.
All credit to Aurora and her chief conductor, Nicholas Collon, for enticing punters with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and providing the opportunity to experience the most elusive rewards of Xenakis’ O-Mega (with talented percussionist Henry Baldwin taking center stage ) and Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto.
Collon and BBC presenter Tom Service made their usual and impressively fluent routine for Beethoven as instructive as it was entertaining. Classical music hasn’t had a double act like this since Morecambe and Wise shared their insights into Grieg’s Piano Concerto. Orchestra members made no less virtuous contributions with split-second suggestions from live music examples.
A traveling clarinetist (the excellent Tim Orpen) gave us a wonderfully theatrical moment, appearing at the front of the stage just as his part gained prominence. And we, the audience, also played our part, learning how the rhythm of the symphony’s opening motto migrated from one section of the orchestra to another and generating, with our palms, a Mexican sound wave around the hall.
Collon also drew attention to the way instrument groups move in and out of orchestral texture, encouraging us to focus on fascinating details that are often missed. The uncanny resemblance of Beethoven’s Scherzo to the end of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 has been perfectly illustrated. And the Service ended by promising that the symphony would take us out of this world, through the universe, and into the cosmos. But Collon’s reading barely did that. It was lively, exhilarating, sometimes exhilarating, but a little less cosmic. Nor did he attempt the sublime in the manner of, say, Furtwängler’s elementary performances of the pre-war period. Very much a Beethoven Five of our day and nothing worse for it.
In Andante, Collon had suggested that the main theme resembled a prayer, with the congregation pronouncing an amen. What we heard was delicious, but with a slightly more secular cadence. And while we were told how much Beethoven’s finale owed to French revolutionary marches, the actual performance had a dexterity and polish that barricades often lack.
Refusing to give an encore after her candid account of Shostakovich, Patricia Kopatchinskaja explained that after such a devastating evocation of despotism, tyranny and war, there was nothing more to say. Playing barefoot, she attacked the Scherzo with fierce energy, turning like a lioness to goad her peers into giving even more.
In both Passacaglia and the dark and silent opening Nocturne, Kopatchinskaja gave us a profoundly personal reading that was totally different from that of the work’s first interpreter, David Oistrakh. But then Oistrakh, as far as I know, never played the concert barefoot.