Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Basel Chamber Orchestra @ Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

30 January 2008


The Basel Chamber Orchestra (or Kammerorchester Basel), founded in 1984, has garnered a great reputation for its performances around Europe.

Our editor watched the ensemble perform Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony at last year’s Menuhin Festival in Gstaad.

Here, Paul McCreesh conducted them in a programme of Weber, Berlioz, Mendelssohn and Sibelius.

Days before the concert, soprano soloist Angelika Kirchschlager withdrew from her scheduled appearance in Berlioz’s Les nuits d’t (yet another high profile artist ignoring an anticipated London engagement), but Sarah Connolly was a pleasing replacement, injecting into Berlioz’s shimmering, romantic song cycle feminine dignity and vocal richness.

At times, Connolly could have been more physically expressive, though the more than half-empty Queen Elizabeth Hall was an uninviting setting for the performance. Meanwhile, the singer’s pure sound tended to be infiltrated by breathiness in its central sphere, but her dynamics were excellent, often mystically quiet, yet uncovering reserves of power to ride the orchestral climaxes; there was never a sense of under-projection. McCreesh matched Connolly for subtlety of expression, the orchestra’s range of intricately articulated textural colours matching the singer’s rose-tinted treatment of the French language.

The orchestra impressed elsewhere, their continuingly wide expressive range compensating for, though not allowing one to forget, various inaccuracies of ensemble. While across the river on Wednesday evening, one could watch Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Linbury Studio, Covent Garden, we were treated to excerpts from Mendelssohn’s suite of the same name. This is magical music, and orchestral fluffs can only diminish its organic, mysterious beauty. However, McCreesh conducted vigorously: the dance music sparkled, bustling with light, frolicsome string pizzicati, while the delicate interplay between brass and woodwind consistently pleased. The violins’ intonation remained exceptionally secure through the registers, though their timbre could seem somewhat harsh.

The two shorter orchestral works, Weber’s Oberon overture and Sibelius’ The Swan of Tuonela, were played with beauty, the orchestral solos plangent, the percussion dully thudding, the twittering flutes mysterious.



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