AURORA ORCHESTRA REVIEW

ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK

MUSIC OF THE SPHERES

Aurora Orchestra at Birmingham Town Hall ★★★★★

This orchestra takes the musical maxim "have the score in your head not your head in the score" quite literally. They have given a hundred-plus performances in which they eschew scores and play from memory. Any idea that this was just an attention-grabbing gimmick was swept away by an amazingly uplifting, zestful and blazingly energetic performance of Mozart's Jupiter symphony under Aurora's founder and principal conductor Nicholas Collon. The majestic fugal finale's strands were interwoven not just aurally but visibly: with wind and high-string players standing, and fiddles divided antiphonally, the music zipped and darted across the sections. It was like having the symphony's structure physically realized in front of us, emphasized in the encore when the final peroration was repeated with the players surrounding the audience – an astonishing effect.

While the concert's clunkily didactic audio-visual presentation about music and Pythagorean mysticism failed – resembling a 1970s Open University television lecture and not helped by Max Richter's dreary minimalist Journey Song CP1919 – the Mozart wordlessly and elegantly succeeded. So too did the sublime Molto Adagio movement from Beethoven's E minor quartet Op.59, winningly performed by the orchestra's four front desk players. Thomas Ades' violin concerto Concentric Circles was the real Pythagorean deal, its title taken from the path of the planets around the sun. Ades work combines lyricism, which effervescent and tireless soloist Pekka Kuusisto found in the central movement's sometimes tough tendrils, with menace as brass, basses and percussion combined in looming sci-fi monster mode building to a thrilling climax.

Norman Stinchcombe

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