tue 25/02/2020

Angelich, Aurora Orchestra, Collon, Kings Place review - warm embraces from good companions | reviews, news & interviews

Angelich, Aurora Orchestra, Collon, Kings Place review - warm embraces from good companions

Angelich, Aurora Orchestra, Collon, Kings Place review - warm embraces from good companions

Mozart concerto very much in earnest, sweetness and light in early Beethoven

Nicholases Angelich and Collon with members of the Aurora Orchstra at the end of their Mozart performanceBoth concert images by Nick Rutter

"New Dawns" as a title smacked a bit of trying to shoehorn a fairly straightforward Aurora programme in to Kings Place's Nature Unwrapped series. Only Dobrinka Tabakova's short and sweet Dawn made the link, and that was old, not new (composed in 2007). Maybe the dawn intended in Mozart's C minor Piano Concerto, K491. was the way in which its opening theme embraces all 12 notes of the chromatic scale, while there is certainly some shock of the new in Beethoven's First Symphony (also being played over at the Royal Festival Hall by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under Jurowski, such are the clashes of Beethoven anniversary year) - and we felt it. What mattered in all three works was playing at the highest level of focus and imagination.

The real lure for many of us was to hear pianist Nicolas Angelich, the most painstaking and poised of Brahms interpreters, in Mozart. Predictably, his was a deep and serious approach - with K491 it can afford to be - making an immediate statement of intent with the tense and release of the opening phrase, almost agonising in its concentration. Curiously for one so searching, he left Mozart at his most simple-sublime, in the rondo-theme of the Larghetto, unadorned where other pianists infill on each return; it's immensely refreshing to hear it "straight" throughout. After all, the elaboration comes with the woodwind-led episodes in between, and the second, clarinet-crowned, is one of those Mozart moments – like its counterpart in the finale’s variations – which seems to fall from the heavens. Nicholas Collon had arrayed his wind soloists where the cellos would normally be, downstage left, in line with the official soloist. After all, this is a concerto for piano and wind with strings and timpani. Aurora rehearsal for Beethoven 1Strings brought in the light at the start of the concert, Tabakova  allowing violin and cello soloists (Alexandra Wood and Sébastien van Kujik) to interweave with the cellist in high register. Perhaps this is that “instant spiritual high” that James MacMillan has spoken of rather dismissively, but Tabakova has risked more in her composing since, and it’s good for starters. If the trio of works on paper looked a touch insubstantial, Collon’s way with Beethoven’s First, the fabulous lightness and agility of his second violins and especially the reminder that Beethoven followed Mozart’s symphony example to begin with in not writing slow movements but something altogether perkier made this a half-hour of sheer bliss. And the fact that all players other than cellos, basses and timps (on old-style kettle drum, complemented by a valveless trumpet for great brightness) stood (pictured above in rehearsal) gave the usual extra degree of energy and teamwork. No wonder many of the players embraced warmly at the end. We felt invited in to share.

Something of that continued, with the four woodwind principals again standing, in what Aurora rather alarmingly calls “The Lock-In” – it’s actually a “relaxed concert” in the round, where you can recline on cushions, sit behind or stand. Consummate bassoonist Amy Harman (pictured below) introduced Mozart’s Quintet for Piano and Wind (oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon – no flute) by declaring that the strings of the concerto were really “infill” – agreed! – and that Mozart wrote for each wind instrument as if he played it. That seemed at its most extraordinary as each floats a distinctive, vocal, trilling line above the piano in the central Larghetto. Amy Harman at Kings PlaceWhat a shame that fees and – presumably – lack of the necessary rehearsal time prevented Angelich from joining the Aurora woodwind; I’ll never forget the shock and delight of turning up at the first concert of the 2018 Pärnu Music Festival to find that Elisabeth Leonskaja, booked as soloist for the Grieg Piano Concerto with the Estonian Festival Orchestra, had decided to participate in Beethoven’s Quintet for the same forces as Mozart's. Aurora resident pianist John Reid's approach was elegant and spruce, more the alternative image of Mozart as sweet Rococo boy. The versatile OAE woodwind simply took that cue, and it was charming. An excellent and generous way to flesh out the evening, and for the third time in a week – after the Royal Opera’s Alice’s Adventures Under Ground and the chamber-music launch of Classical Vauxhall – I found myself part of an ideally mixed audience. That’s the way to go.

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