Enlightenment at the QEH




The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, which is celebrating its 21st anniversary, takes its name from the 18th Century when reason and scientific observation began to overtake superstition. In some cases. It makes a point of playing 18th and early 19th century music on period instruments (or modern replicas). This used to be regarded as something of a fad, but nowadays the authentic performance of Haydn, Mozart, and the early romantic composers is recognized as well worthwhile.

It makes quite a difference. Though the stringed instruments haven't changed in 200 years, the orchestra uses valveless trumpets and horns, and woodwinds without the complicated Boehm key system introduced in the late 19th century. The sound is quite different: with a smaller string section, and woodwinds which have a reedier tone and cut through the orchestra more, the sound is leaner and springier than a modern full-sized symphony orchestra.

Yesterday evening Franz Br├╝ggen conducted the orchestra in engaging performances of Haydn's 92nd and 96th symphonies (the 'Oxford' and the 'Miracle'), together with three arias sung by Martene Grimson. I've always preferred Haydn to Mozart, and his wit, warmth and humanity were well represented.

Unusually, the items were introduced by a narrator: actor Simon Callow, complete with 18th century costume, wig, and German accent, in the persona of Johann Peter Saloman, the impresario who brought Haydn to London, with immense success, in 1791. This could easily have turned out to be the sort of tiresome gimmick used by promoters anxious to attract punters with too short a concentration span for a plain concert, but was well written and performed with considerable wit and charm. The mixture of friendly gossip and hard facts gave a fascinating background to the music - we heard how Haydn's rapturous reception in London was equivalent to that of pop superstars today.

Provided it was done as well it would be interesting to see this idea applied to, for instance, Stravinsky - a mixture of his music and his acerbic biographical comments would be fascinating.

Click here for a larger version of the photo

Download a Google Earth placemark for the Queen Elizabeth Hall

Posted: Wed - September 20, 2006 at 09:06 AM by Roger Wilmut          

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