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

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

Known for its “orchestral theatre” approach to classical music, which imaginatively reinvents its format and presentation, the Aurora Orchestra’s mesmerizing, memorized performances have become a popular feature at the Proms. It was nice to see a nearly sold out audience at the Albert Hall again.

All credit goes to Aurora and his principal conductor Nicholas Collon for attracting clients with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and providing the opportunity to explore the elusive rewards of Xenakis’ O-Mega (with accomplished drummer Henry Baldwin taking center stage) and Shostakovich’s first violin to experience concert.

Collon and BBC presenter Tom Service performed their usual impressively fluid routine for the Beethoven, as instructive as it was entertaining. There hasn’t been a double act like this in classical music since Morecambe and Wise shared their insights into Grieg’s Piano Concerto. Orchestra members made no less virtuoso contributions, cueing live musical samples in seconds.

A roving clarinetist (the excellent Tim Orpen) gave us a wonderfully theatrical moment, appearing at the front of the stage just as his role was gaining momentum. And we, the audience, played our part too, experiencing the rhythm of the symphony’s opening motto moving from one section of the orchestra to another, our clapping sending an audible Mexican wave through the hall.

Patricia Kopatchinskaja performs Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Aurora Orchestra (Mark Allan)

Patricia Kopatchinskaja performs Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 with the Aurora Orchestra (Mark Allan)

Collon also drew attention to the way instrument groups enter and exit the orchestral structure, encouraging us to focus on intriguing details that are often overlooked. The uncanny resemblance of Beethoven’s Scherzo to the finale of Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 has been neatly illustrated. And 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 hardly did that. It was lively, exhilarating, stirring at times, but far from cosmic. Nor did it aspire to the sublime, like Furtwangler’s elementary pre-war performances. Very much a Beethoven Five of our time and no worse for it.

In the Andante, Collon had suggested that the main theme resemble a prayer, with the congregation pronouncing an Amen. What we heard was delightful but with a more secular accent. And while we were told how much Beethoven’s finale owed to the French Revolutionary marches, the actual performance had a dexterity and luster generally lacking on the barricades.

Patricia Kopatchinskaja declined to provide an encore after her heartfelt portrayal of Shostakovich, declaring that there was nothing left to say after such a devastating invocation of despotism, tyranny and war. Playing barefoot, she attacked the scherzo with ferocious energy, turning like a lioness to urge her peers to give more.

In both the passacaglia and the somberly subdued opening nocturne, Kopatchinskaya gave us a deeply personal reading, utterly different from that of the work’s first performer, David Oistrakh. But, as far as I know, Oistrakh never played the concerto barefoot.

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