Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Academy Of St Martin In The Fields / Marriner @ Cadogan Hall, London

4 November 2005

As London’s newest concert hall, Cadogan Hall has rightly earned a number of plaudits over the last few months. Still whiter than white, it is an outstanding venue for concerts of this size. In a variation on a theme the Academy of St Martin marked their first visit to the hall with an early evening antidote to the rush hour, a well chosen program of neo-classical and early Romantic works.

The ‘neo-classicists’ first – and a pair of jesters they were too. Stravinsky’s Pulcinella suite may open with a stately sinfonia, but what follows shows off his virtuosity as an orchestrator, Sir Neville Marriner taking great enjoyment in his pointing up of the trombone glissandi in the vivo and the trumpet shriek with which the tarantella ends.

Meanwhile David Theodore’s keen oboe solo in the serenata was quietly moving, and a scrappy link to the finale aside, this was a performance of wit and sensitivity. Woodwind in particular were first class.

Respighi’s pictorial Birds suite fared even better, like Stravinsky drawing from the music of earlier composers which the sketchy booklet note failed to name. The hen clucked impatiently through the first violins, while there were comical, floundering phrases on bassoon and lower strings, the instruments seemingly competing to see who could make the funniest noise.

Meanwhile the stickiness of a warm summer night was perfectly captured by the basses, allowing the composer to work his magic with a wonderful nightingale line for flute, Andrew Nicholson’s big moment. Lastly the cuckoo, his two note phrase flitting around the orchestra, the players revelling in Respighi’s evocative scoring.

The two overtures remained in the shadow of these sparkling scores. Mendelssohn’s Hebrides could have done with a bigger orchestra’s ability to make more of the sea spray the opening conveys. Marriner’s ocean had a glassy clarity, with many fine moments – a beautifully hushed clarinet solo the peak. The approach waters to the end were stormy, but the problem of size remained, albeit in the background.

Meanwhile Rossini’s Il Turco in Italia overture closed the concert on an upbeat note, the horn solo of the introduction perfectly played and the orchestra’s characteristic rush to the end managed tastefully by Marriner, even if he missed some of the humour evident elsewhere. At the end we wanted more – and nearly got it – but went away suitably uplifted for the weekend after a highly enjoyable hour.

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Academy Of St Martin In The Fields / Marriner @ Cadogan Hall, London