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String Theory

In Classical Music, Review on November 27, 2014 at 10:23 am

Review – The Works (Queen Elizabeth Hall, Monday 24 November 2014)

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment seems to have cornered the market in ways to bring music to audiences in fresh and innovative ways. And while The Works and Night Shift aim to bring new audiences to classical music, personally I enjoy attending these concerts because they always shed new light on music that I’ve known and loved for years and – almost always – begun to take for granted.

And the evening dedicated to Dvorak and Elgar was no different. I grew up loving both Dvorak’s Serenade and the latter’s Sospiri but after Monday’s concert I returned to them with fresh ears.

Naturally and as ever, the OAE themselves played with both skill and enthusiasm, drawing out both robust depth and sound as well as a range of colours. When they stood to perform, it really lifted both their playing as well as bringing a brighter, keener sound to the music.

And host-cum-presenter Rachel Leach did a brilliant job in sharing her enthusiasm and passion for both these pieces and classical music overall. Her no -nonsense and non-technical approach was so refreshing and invigorating despite the sad, old naysayer in the audience. I love the fact that she taught the audience a new term – hemiola – and that she did so by getting them to perfom it themselves. And forever more I shall not refer to ‘ternary form’ when speaking to friends not as conversant as I in musical form, but rather sandwiches. If there were more people like Rachel Leach – her love of music is infectious – then I’ve no doubt that there would be more people willing to at least try classical music.

Has the OAE considered podcasts featuring Rachel? And perhaps the BBC should enlist her skills.

By bringing out the detail of the Serenade, and placing it in the context of the form’s provenance as well as Dvorak’s life, she literally reinvented it for me. And similarly with Sospiri. I’d never truly realized it’s significance of being composed in 1914, and with the Centenary this year there was an added poignancy.

I have to admit I wasn’t so moved by the arrangement of Grieg’s Erotik for piano. While the arrangement was a smart one, for me it didn’t add anything to the original piece and in some ways detracted from it’s original emotional impact.

However the most startling performance of the evening was the performance of the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. There was a simple yet ethereal and translucent beauty to the performance with each individual line – and not only the harp – balanced and audible.

It was simply breathtaking.

Long may the OAE continue this series – and Night Shifts. While they may be brining a new audience to the music, they shouldn’t discount that they are teaching some old dogs new tricks when listening to cherished favourites.

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