Aurora Orchestra/Collon review – memorable for all the right reasons

Royal Albert Hall, London
Playing an Anna Meredith premiere and Beethoven’s 40-minute Pastoral from memory brought a sense of spontaneity – the gamble certainly paid off

Nicholas Collon conducts the Aurora Orchestra
A risk rewarded … Nicholas Collon conducts the Aurora Orchestra in a from-memory performance of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. Photograph: Chris Christodoulou/BBC
A risk rewarded … Nicholas Collon conducts the Aurora Orchestra in a from-memory performance of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony. Photograph: Chris Christodoulou/BBC

Last modified on Thu 26 Mar 2020 08.52 EDT

New in this Prom given by the Aurora Orchestra under Nicholas Collon was a five-minute piece by Anna Meredith, whose curious title is a Victorian slang term for handkerchief thieves. Alongside members of the Aurora Orchestra, Smatter Hauler featured players aged between 15 and 25 from the BBC Proms Youth Ensemble, brought together especially.

It began in something near to total darkness. Thereafter, both visual and sonic attention shifted around the platform as instrumental sections were highlighted when they picked up the musical material, then allowed to slip back into obscurity after they had passed it on again. Bright-toned and rhythmically punchy, Smatter Hauler seized the attention and held it.

Its snappy performance was all the more remarkable given that Meredith’s miniature was played from memory – something Collon and the Aurora players attempted with success in the 2014 Prom season with their account of Mozart’s Symphony No 40. Here they set themselves an even greater challenge: after the short world premiere, they followed up with Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony – a work one size up from Mozart’s masterpiece.

While one can imagine a neater performance, there was a sense of spontaneity about this interpretation that surely sprang from the risk-taking involved in memorising a 40-minute score – a gamble that certainly paid off.

Francesco Piemontesi
Perfectly poised … Swiss pianist Francesco Piemontesi performed Mozart’s Coronation Concerto. Photograph: Chris Christodoulou/BBC

Beethoven’s was not the only Pastoral Symphony on the programme. The concert began with a work of the same title by Brett Dean, which celebrated the natural world of the composer’s native Australia in evocatively imaginative fashion while also sounding ominous warnings of the dangers of its destruction.

Memorable, too, was Swiss pianist Francesco Piemontesi’s clean and authoritative account of Mozart’s Coronation Concerto, which included a perfectly poised slow movement and an intriguing first-movement cadenza by Christian Zacharias, in which Collon moved over to a celesta to filter in one or two magical, music-box-like phrases.

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