Monday 3 December 2012

Inaugural performance of the Orchestra Musica Romantica

Orchestra Musica Romantica
Cadogan Hall, 1 Dec 2012

Last night, 1 December, was the inaugural performance (or should I say debut) of the Orchestra Musca Romantica in aid of Action Medical Research at Cadogan Hall, Sloane Square. Dubbed a ‘super-orchestra’ by Classic FM, Orchestra Musica Romantica is the child of Jörg Hammann, who also plays violin with the London Symphony Orchestra and conducts the Orchestra of the Guildhall Music College. It is a project orchestra with the specific aspiration of giving back to the community. As he explains is his blog for Gramphone, it is ‘an orchestra for those in need’.

The chamber orchestra consists of professional players from big name orchestras such as the London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Academy of St. Martin’s, and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, but also features music students from across London. Jörg himself, whose favourite things include Bach and chocolate, is artistic director and conductor.

A brief pre-concert talk by Richard Price, the Chairman of Action Medical Research, explained the endeavours and successes of the charity and thanked volunteers for helping with the concert organisation, selling programmes and collecting donations at the door.

...and then the concert proper.

The Moldau (symphonic poem no. 2 from 'Má vlast' by Smetana (1824-1884)) was a lovely and atmospheric start to the programme. The flute duet entry was perfectly poised, moving into fluidity with the cellos and continuing throughout the accompaniment to the famous melody. The string sections were so attuned that they all moved as one with the music, and Smetana’s picture painting could be clearly heard in the hunt and wedding, as the river flowed on.

One of the beautiful things about the Cadogan Hall is that it is ideal for a chamber orchestra. No sound gets lost, and you feel as though they are playing just for you. The harp, which can often be lost in a larger hall, shone through in the dappled woodwind section. All the way through, but very clearly felt in the trumpet pageant, Jörg’s direction ensured that each section was brought above the flowing river to be submerged as the journey progressed.

When the theme returned, emphasized by brass and timpani, the orchestra had a right to be as proud of themselves as Smetana was about Vysherad.

Next up was Mozart’s (1756-1791) concerto no 4 in D major KV218. Tomo Keller (also from the LSO) provided the solo. He had a relaxed style of playing both physically and musically which belied the brilliance of the cadenzas. He had a lovely understated vibrato, a wide dynamic range, and produced a clear yet breathy ‘vocal’ tone from his instrument. I also unreservedly approve both of the discreet use of ornamentation and portamento. Rhythm and pitch were sometimes a little loose compared to what I usually associate with Mozart - but that is not necessarily a bad thing. It is a style I have not heard before and I would definitely like to hear him play again.

From the outset Peer Gynt (the orchestral suite) by Grieg (1843-1907) also provided some new musical interpretations for me. Morning Mood began with an unexpected feeling provided by the oboe: more a sense of awakening than of the sunrise I normally associate with this piece. It was also much faster than the versions I am familiar with – it is interesting how such small differences can totally revamp a well known and much loved work.

From this point every movement had a completely different feel: from the muted breathy strings in The Death of Ase and Anitra’s Dance (well done for maintaining control through the tricky pizzicato sections) to the drama of In the Hall of the Mountain King. The enthusiasm of the audience was matched by the grins of the orchestra as they hollered and growled along with the ogres. By the end the audience struggled to rein in their applause.

Ingrid’s Lament was the most beautiful of the songs so far, delicately controlled by Jörg, followed by the dramatically different Arabian Dance and Peer Gynt’s Homecoming. Finally Solveig’s Song, my favourite of this suite, did not disappoint.

We were fortunate enough to be given a short encore of the Cygnets from Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky (1840-1893) – a fun ending which matched the exuberance of the concert.

While I’m sure some arm twisting of colleagues and friends went on, what the orchestra has produced is a cohesive whole with an overriding sense of camaraderie and good humour. Jörg  hopes that, 'the expertise of the professionals can be passed on to the next generation of musicians playing in the same environment, and on the other hand the ‘freshness’ of students can contribute to new results: both sides can mutually inspire each other.' and in this I can only wish him well.

Action Medical Research is dedicated to stopping the suffering of babies caused by disease and disability. Like the Queen 2012 is its Diamond Jubilee. Over the past 60 years AMR has been involved in developing ultrasound, foetal heart monitors, cooling therapy, polio and rubella vaccines, and in showing the importance of folic acid for mums to be in preventing spina bifida. All this from charitable donations. They raise £3 million annually and have raised over £100 million in total – but there is still so much to do. Fundraising events range from ‘Bring your bear’ to the nine day, 1000 mile, ‘Land’s End to John O’Groats’ cycle ride.
review by Hilary Glover

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