Sunday 15 June 2014

Four Quarters - Aurora Orchestra at Kings Place

Aurora Orchestra
Ravel, Thomas Ades, Mozart; Aurora Orchestra; Kings Place
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jun 13 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Two established chamber classics and a new classic from this lively young orchestra

As part of Kings Place's series Chamber Classics Unwrapped, on Friday 13 June 2014, the members of the Aurora Orchestra performed Ravel's Introduction and Allegro, Thomas Ades's Four Quarters and Mozart's Gran Partita, a wonderfully profligate piece of programming which saw no one player participating in all three works.

Ravel's Introduction and Allegro for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet was written in 1905 to showcase the new Erard pedal harp, its pedals giving composers access to new chromatic possibilities on the instrument. Ravel was in fact rather dismissive of the instrument, but his work has become something of a classic. After a slow and fluid Introduction, the Allegro had a nice flexibility with a lovely feeling of continuous melody. The playing from the members of the Aurora Orchestr (Sally Pryce, Jane Mitchell, Peter Sparks, Alexandra Wood, Jamie Campbell, Max Baillie and Oliver Coates) was expressive but avoided the sentimentality which the piece can fall into. Their playing in the slower sections was wonderfully langorous. Pryce was impressively fluent in the cadenza, and there was a lovely elan to the conclusion.

Thomas Ades's Four Quarters was written for the Emerson Quartet and premiered at the Carnegie Hall in 2011. The work is in four movements, Nightfalls, Serenade: Morning Dew, Days and The Twenty-fifth Hour. Nightfall started with magical high notes in the violins counterpointed with a dark brooding from viola and cello underneath. Ades develops the material but the sense of duality remained, there was very much a feel of contemporary counterpoint. After a point of high intensity was reached, the opening material re-appeared and the movement eventually evaporated. Serenade: Morning Dew started with all four players pizzicato, vividly vibrant and fast giving more of a sense of textures than harmonies. The transition to a mixture of arco and pizzicato was nearly seamless and the whole movement something of a tour de force from the players. Days was made from simple materials, but very evocative and expressive. Each instrument seemed, at first, to circle round the same material getting more intense. Finally, the opening returned and evaporated. The final movement The Twenty-fifth Hour opened with a lovely combination of harmonics, strummed cello and viola pizzicato, the players making magical sounds. Ades's writing involves complex rhythmic sequences, but you could not tell as the players made the combinations of 2/4 and 3/16 seem perfectly natural. In a style of construction which I now began to recognise, the movement first intensified then the opening material returned but this time we returned to the material from the very opening of the quartet.

The playing from Alexandra Wood, Jamie Campbell, Max Baillie and Oliver Coates was superb, they were clearly up to the technical challenge of Ades's writing, and functioned as a highly responsive quartet, giving us a technically poised and very expressive performance.

After the interval it was the chance of the wind as two oboes, two clarinets, two basset horns, two bassoons, one contra-bassoon and four horns assembled on stage for Mozart's Serenade No. 10 for winds in B flat Gran Partita of 1784. The work is the product of Emperor Joseph II of Austria's interest in Harmoniemusik and his decision that members of the Court Theatre Orchestra should play Harmoniemusik. Conventionally this was music written for an ensemble of two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons and two horns, but Mozart's Gran Partita uses a rather expanded ensemble. It was written for a benefit at the Court Theatre for clarinettist Anton Stadler,

The opening movement started with a lovely depth to the sound, and superb solo lines. The Allegro was crisp and lively with responsive playing. There was some finely shaped phrasing in the Menuetto with quite detailed pointing and a nice swing to the triple time rhythm. The first trio was a lovely quartet for the clarinets and basset horns, whilst in the second the top clarinets get time off and Mozart gives us a fine oboe-led texture. We had very fine solos in the Adagio, whilst the second Menuetto was something of a jolly romp, but finely done. The first trio saw the players relishing Mozart's dynamic contrasts, whilst the second was a lovely take on an oom-pah waltz with a superb oboe solo. Romance had a finely spun lines, with a lovely smooth texture, then the trio saw some amazing fast passage-work from the bassoons. There were some lovely details in the Tema con variazione and responsive playing. Throughout I enjoyed the way Mozart used different combinations of instruments to create varieties of textures. The Finale was taken qt quite a lick, with some lovely perky playing and a bravura finish.

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