Everything in this concert was beautifully played. First we had a warm, intelligent account of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini with Pavel Kolesnikov at the piano. Each and every one of the 24 variations was spelled out with sensitive attention to all those different styles especially in the pizzicato variation and the frenetic finale.
Then, eventually, we got magnificent performance of Firebird with every nuance lovingly leaned on. Because this is Aurora Orchestra (founded by Nicholas Collon in 2005) most of the players stood up for both works and the Stravinsky was played from memory which meant that players maintained continuous eye contact with the conductor and each other and that introduces a very unusual level of cohesion. Of course this is a narrative piece – it’s ballet music after all – and I have rarely heard the story telling so clear or so well articulated. The moment in this performance when the horn breaks in with that final haunting hymn-like tune will stay with me for a long time because Collon made it grow from the previous pianissimo passage like a flower bursting into bloom. The low level attempt at “staging” by altering the lighting, added nothing though. There was enough drama in the music. It needed no highlighting.
Having said all that though there were problems – at least as far I was concerned. The concert was introduced by Tom Service on stage. Now although I listen regularly to his informative Radio 3 programme The Listening Service and admire his fluent, knowledgeable enthusiasm, I don’t need Mr Service to tell me what I’m going to hear or to whip up applause with arm gestures like a pantomime character. I go to concerts for the music and really don’t care for any sort of chat in that context.
Moreover, In the middle of this concert we got a 20 minute musicology/music appreciation lesson – the sort of thing I associate with concerts for young audiences. It was well enough done in its way although I don’t relish being asked to hum. Service and Collon are an effective double act and Collon talked about Stravinsky’s use of intervals, illustrated by Aurora players quite interestingly. Orchestra members even sang a couple of songs which are part of the source material for Firebird. But you can get this sort of thing on the radio if you want it. In a concert hall I want music and in this case I would much preferred to have heard an extra work.
I also found myself irritated that in a concert billed as “no interval” audience members had to talk among themselves for 10 minutes while music stands and piano were taken off stage and various other bits of stage management were attended to. Several people, puzzled, tried to slip out and were turned back by staff.
It was, however, a good idea to run this concert twice. I attended the afternoon performance as part of a good sized audience. It was the later, evening performance which went out live on Radio 3.