Piemontesi/ BBC PYE/ Aurora/ Collon, review: Aurora Orchestra plays from memory, and Francesco Piemontesi excels in Mozart

A fine advertisement for playing by heart

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Talk about memory is currently much in the air – getting it, improving it, losing it – and Nicholas Collon and the Aurora Orchestra entered this debate with their bold decision to join those musicians who play without the assistance of sheet music, by delivering Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony without that support.

Collon claims that being ‘unshackled to the printed notes’ allows both a deeper immersion in the work and a closer communication with the audience, but many musicians would disagree. First, because they may only glance occasionally at the pages on their stand – they just need to know they’re there – and second, because it’s absolutely not proven that paperless performances are superior to those attached to the printed notes.

That said, the Aurora’s performance made a fine advertisement for playing by heart. There was warmth and eagerness in their approach to the first movement, the cuckoo came pat on cue by the brook, the thunderstorm raged with furious concentration.

This work had been preceded by Smatter hauler, a squib from Anna Meredith involving players from the BBC Proms Youth Ensemble which was, as she promised, ‘brash and brutal’, but five minutes of it were indeed enough. The high point of this Prom was Francesco Piemontesi’s perfectly-judged performance as soloist in Mozart’s ‘Coronation’ piano concerto, with a celeste briefly roped in for a cadenza.